Friday, 11 November 2011

Worry, distractions and the Jesus Prayer

I referred in an earlier post to my many questions about what happens when I say the Jesus Prayer. Those questions were not just about distractions but about what do you do with your mind as you say the words and whether you just say the words or accompany those words with any thoughts as to their meaning etc. Well below is a very helpful extract from a book I recommended earlier called "Living the Jesus Prayer" by Irma Zaleski. She is talking about distractions, but what she says also touches on some of my questions about the words, thoughts, and what it is I must think about when praying the Prayer:

"Distractions, it has been said, rather than being obstacles to our practice of prayer, can become a powerful instrument of our growth in our practice. Our inattention may become the means of calling us to attention - of reminding ourselves, moment by moment, of the real meaning of the words we are trying to say, the means of our moment-by-moment conversion: of our turning away from ourselves and re-turning to God. Each time we return to the prayer, each time we become aware of how we "failed" in it, we become more aware of our weakness and of our need for God's love and mercy. We must never worry about whether we are saying the prayer well or not so well, attentively or distractedly, with energy or half-asleep. Often after what we might consider a completely unsuccessful period of prayer, we find ourselves most at peace and closest to God. The Prayer of Jesus is always God's work in us. We just say the prayer and stay as quiet and as open as we can." (Page 22)"  Living the Jesus Prayer: Irma Zaleski

Several things struck me about Irma's wise words:
First, there is nothing bad about our praying the prayer that cannot be turned to good. Even inattention can "become the means of reminding ourselves...of the real meaning of the words."
Second, there will be a struggle because we are, while saying the prayer, in the process of conversion, "turning away from ourselves and re-turning to God." To expect instant results or an easy ride in praying the prayer is to forget that we are sinful human beings, riddled with wrong thoughts, scarred by wrong actions, and full of ingrained habits and thought patterns that need to be dealt with as we draw nearer God. Conversion involves applying the cross to our lives as a scalpel that will bring healing, but neverless still has to cut.
Third, Irma calls for us not to worry, which is itself a distraction. "Never worry about whether we are saying the prayer well or not so well, attentively or distractedly, with energy or half-asleep". I think we sometimes separate out Jesus' teaching about prayer from his other teachings as if they don't immediately relate to one another but I think that is a mistake. In Matthew 6:25-33 is a passage about worry. This is a passage so relevant to prayer that I don't know how I missed it for so long. Here Jesus tells us not only not to worry, but how to deal with it's destructive dominance over our lives: "Seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness" (Verse 33). If you are focussing and concentrating on one thing, it will tune out the others. To focus on the words of the Jesus prayer only, you will not worry or be distracted about things that threaten to tear your eyes off God.
Lastly, it is good to be reminded that:  "The Prayer of Jesus is always God's work in us", so we should "just say the prayer and stay as quiet and as open as we can." That puts our praying and our living the Christian life in the proper perspective. Prayer - like our service - is not a means of earning God's love or favour - grace is gift not reward - but a co-operating with Him in the work that He is already doing in us as we serve and pray.

So many thanks Irma. I feel I can go back to my praying the Jesus with a whole new attitude.

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