Sunday, 8 September 2013
Every day with Jesus - saying the Jesus Prayer 5
I am currently re-reading Frederica Mathewes-Green excellent book on the Jesus Prayer. In the Introduction she writes that “it's purpose is to tune one's inner attention to the presence of The Lord.” It reminded me of the piano that used to be in my parent's house where I grew up and learnt how to play. It had a wooden, rather than a metal frame, which meant that with the changes of temperature it would go out of tune pretty quickly. So whenever they could afford it they had a piano tuner call round and he would spend an hour getting each and every note back to the right pitch and in tune with one another. I always remember how he would spend what seemed ages on each note striking it over and over, pausing occasionally to adjust the string by turning the bolt at the top or bottom first this way then that until eventually he was satisfied that it was bang in the middle of the note. It was that repetitive striking of the same note that Frederica made me think about.
The heart, and mind - or better the nous - is like that string. Through living in an environment where God is not at the centre we, through our own sinfulness, have become out of tune with God and need to be brought back again to the place where we are once again in harmony with the Divine. By repeating the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ….” we are tuning our nous again to resonate with the right frequency that will produce harmony and peace with God.
It was like that this morning for me. Even though my 'mind' disconnected briefly from the prayer, somehow it seemed that the prayer went on as I got up and went downstairs to get my cereal. It's as if the prayer itself echoed on after the last spoken word of it, like a bell continues to resound after the last strike. To I remained in an attitude of prayer for a minute or so as I held on to the words in my head on the way to get my breakfast.
I want that to happen all the time. To have the prayer take up permanent residence in my heart or nous so that whatever I am doing I am in the presence of the One who is the object of my inner attention.
A note on the nous
As Frederica points out in her book, the nous is not a familiar concept to us here in the West. That is partly because we don't now our Greek but read our bibles through the idiom of English. Here's Frederica:
“It (the word 'nous') gets translated "mind” but it doesn't mean the talkative mind, the one that cogitators and constructs theories. It is a receptive capacity of the intellect; we would call it “the understanding” or the “comprehension.” The Eastern Church has always known that the nous can be trained to register, or perceive, the voice of God.“ (Page x)
Frederica uses the picture of a little radio which after being switched on needs to be tuned in. It became switched on at her conversion. She became aware of Christ speaking to her. She says "it wasn't something I heard with my ears, but by an inner voice, filling my awareness.” As she began to read literature about Eastern Christianity she then discovered that this notion of the little radio had a word for it. Nous.