Monday, 26 August 2013

The Jesus Prayer

What we normally mean by “prayer” is talking to God (albeit silently) about things we need or things that worry us – or praising him and thanking him for this and that. Much of that kind of prayer involves thinking, imagining, conceptualizing. It is takes place in a mind full of echoes and mumblings of conversation, memories of things that have happened or fears of what may be about to, or simply random words rattling around in our head – traces of thoughts that have not quite died away. Prayer in that context often feels a bit like writing a message in a bottle, and consigning it to the sea addressed to the God we hope will find it. God’s actual presence is at best assumed, but it is hardly tangible.

The aim of the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, constantly repeated) is to lead our constantly changing thoughts and feelings into a single conduit. The clearing of the mind is the result of a long struggle that the Fathers describe in the Philokalia. It doesn’t come easily to anyone: we have to keep trying. “External things and the content of thought, with one word objects, stop the subject from returning to itself; they draw it to everything except itself. Only with great effort, by discipline, does the subject become capable of getting loose for a few moments in succession, from the slavery of contents, which hold it far from home and constrict it as much as they can” (Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality, p. 286, my emphasis).

If we achieve it, this state of emptiness or purity reveals God to us, or makes the mind transparent to God, like a mirror that, once cleaned, reflects the light of the sun (ibid., p. 287). We stand astonished in front of an abyss, the infinite but personal presence of the supreme Subject that transcends us utterly and on which we depend, before which we can only submit and offer adoration in humility. The Fathers refer to this as a state of “prayer beyond prayer” (ibid., p. 296).

Then it is the Spirit who prays in us (Rom. 8:26-8). “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16). Through our prayer in the Spirit – that is, through in a sense our becoming prayer, becoming a “word” carried by the Spirit – we enter into eternal life. Already in this life we enter into the “we” of God by becoming Church.

“Now the world is totally transfigured into God; its totality rests within the inner realm of God’s totality, its unity encounters the primordial unity. The radiance of God’s glory streams over it, as the splendour of the sun overpowers the light of the stars” (Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy, p. 353).

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, thank you. There is an excellent article here about the Jesus Prayer:
    Evdokimov, quoted in it, says: "We must offer not what we have, but what we are"