Last night was the second session of the monthly series Christine Luna Munger and I are presenting at St. Catherine’s this year on Deepening Our Spirituality with Christian Prayers & Practices. (This is our third “Deepening” series.) In each of our sessions, one of us speaks about a prayer and practice. In our first session in September, I spoke about the Examen prayer and the practice of Gratitude. In our session last night, Christine spoke about Sacramentality as a practice and about the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer, also sometimes referred to as the Prayer of the Heart or the Practice of Ceaseless Prayer, is designed to help the mind descend into the heart and rest in a place of stillness. The word of the prayer are based on the episode recorded in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus heals a blind man on the road to Jericho. The man gets Jesus attention when he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!….Son of David, have pity on me!”
Christine talked about the origins of the prayer and participants spent some time praying it. The instruction Gregory of Sinai in the early fourteenth century, was:
Gather your mind into your heart, and send out your cry to the Lord Jesus, asking for help and saying: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on my”… Some of the fathers taught us that this prayer should be said in full: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Alternatively, sometimes is may be said in full, at other times in a shorter form. Yet it is not wise to give in to laziness by altering the words too often; instead, keep going for a certain length of time as a test of your patience. Some have taught that the prayer should be said using the lips; others that it should be said int he mind. In my view, both should be used.
Whatever phrase one uses, it helps the practice to synchronize the breath by using part or all of the phrase on the in-breath and part or all o the phrase on the out-breath.
I have sometimes practiced the Jesus Prayer as Gregory instructs. But I have also used the same method with other lines, such as “The Lord is my shepherd [on the in-breath], I shall not want [on the out-breath]. Try it the traditional way and then adapt as might be useful.
The First Letter to the Thessalonians instructs us to “pray unceasingly.” If you practice this regularly and intentionally during prayer periods, you will notice that the prayer will arise spontaneously within the course of your daily activities.
Next month at our “Deepening” series, I will be speaking about Sabbath and the Liturgy of the Hours. If you are in the Twin Cities, you are welcome to join us if you can!