Friday, 14 February 2014

Praying to the Trinity

There are three special prayers in the Christian tradition: The Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, and the Hail Mary. These prayers are directed especially to the members of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This is easy to see in the case of the first two, which are explicitly addressed to the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the third, although we know that he is the Spouse of the Mother of God, and St Maximilian Kolbe even refers to Our Lady as the “quasi-incarnation” of the Holy Spirit. These two – The Spirit and Our Lady – are closely entwined at the deepest level.

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.

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. 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.”

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.

The Marian prayer that complements the Jesus Prayer is based around the name of Mary, though it contains both.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

The prayer contains three sentences. In the first sentence, the reference to the Lord is an invocation of God the Father. In the second sentence the name of Jesus is invoked directly, so that the Mary Prayer enfolds the Jesus Prayer in something like the way the Christ Child is borne in the arms of his Mother in the most familiar icons of Madonna and Child. Thus you could say the icon is a visual translation of the Hail Mary. In the third sentence, Mary's motherhood is invoked, and along with it the entire Church whose soul is the Holy Spirit.

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