Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Power of the Name

Just bought another book on the Jesus Prayer called "The Power of the Name" by Alphonse and Rachel Goetmann who are the directors of Bethanie, intriguingly described as "a Centre for Spiritual Encounter located in the city of Metz in eastern France. Father Goetmann is an Orthodox priest.

In the blurb on the back the authors write:
"This book has grown out of lived experience and not out of theory. The Jesus Prayer has been the foundation of our lives for over forty years." In other words if you are looking for the next best thing to a neighbourhood staretz, they are it. However that is only my first thought. Alphonse and Rachel make no such lofty claims. In fact in their Preface they are reassuringly humble stating: "We have dared to write a book on the Jesus Prayer...." Although this clearly expresses their wish to distance themselves from being considered experts in any way, it does encourage me - and anyone buying the book - to believe that here is someone who can tell me something that I don't know about this ancient prayer. In my continuing search for help and guidance here is someone at whose feet I can sit for a little while.

The chapters that follow take us through the power of the Name in the Old and New Testaments (chapter 1) and the Jesus Prayer in the early tradition (chapter 2) before getting down to the practicalities of praying the Jesus Prayer (chapter 3). In this chapter they explain how to simply recite the prayer slowly, counselling the pray-er that the prayer is "...pronounced with our lips, in a more or less rapid rhythm, but always putting our heart and mind into it, lovingly focusing our attention on God, each word of the prayer absorbing our whole consciousness". (page 31).

They go on to talk about the importance of recollection, posture, forgiveness, relaxation, what to do with distractions and breathing etc.  What they have to say about breathing was very helpful as that has become, form time to time, a real problem in saying the prayer as it has led me to breathlessness and a sense of heaviness.

Chapter four is entitled "The Jesus Prayer as a way of life" linking it in with the need to read and become familiar with the Bible, with Chapter Five - the Path of Conversion and Asceticism  - underlining our call to follow Jesus which necessitates self-denial and the battle against sin. In other words it reminds us that here is not disconnected form of spirituality which has become all the rage at the moment where the Jesus Prayer becomes yet another 'option' for those who call themselves 'spiritual' but not 'religious'. For such people the Prayer is taken from the same shelf as TM, yoga or other New age forms of spirituality as a way of achieving inner peace. But to link it to Christ and his call to follow him, and the need to identify and fight against human sinfulness is to place it very firmly within the Christian Tradition.

The final chapter is entitled "The Meaning of the Prayer" which goes through the theology of the words of the prayer. This may seem an odd place to put such a chapter. Wouldn't it have been better to explain it first before asking us to practice it? However as we read the New Testament it is always this way round - the experience of Jesus leading to an understanding or explanation of who He is.

So an excellent book by people who know what they are talking about and who certainly practice what they preach.

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