Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus prayer is a simple, ancient, Christian prayer that is based upon several passages of the Bible: Mark 10:48, Luke 17:13, and Luke 18:13
Though the exact wording varies, the most common form of the Jesus Prayer is:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.  Amen."

It has been prominent in the spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox Church, though the content is similar to that of the "Sinner's Prayer" of the Evangelical Christian tradition.  While the Sinners Prayer is used as a tool to help individuals commit to a relationship with Christ for the first time (and is generally used in conjunction with Baptism), the Jesus Prayer is intended (like all authentic Christian prayer) as a tool to nourish that union with him throughout our lives.

The Jesus Prayer is used in the Eastern Christian tradition to help the faithful pursue "unceasing prayer" as St. Paul enjoins in 1 Thessolonians 5:17.  As a prayer for "mercy" it can be used as a request for divine help and grace in general, and for spiritual healing and the forgiveness of sins in particular.  The ancient Greek word for "mercy" (eleison) is actually related to the word for olive oil that was used as a healing balm (see James 5:14-16)  This prayer is especially esteemed because it invokes the holy Name of Jesus Christ, who is our ultimate source of peace and joy (see John 16:24).

These words are used for spiritual meditation, and the Jesus Prayer is a tool to focus the heart and mind upon the Lord Jesus, and through repetition and "centering" on these words we become more deeply aware of the Presence of the Lord to which these words point, and the centering process helps us to set aside the clutter and the distractions that fill our minds so constantly.

Among Western Christians, including Methodists and Anglicans, the Jesus Prayer has become more commonly practiced in recent years.

The prayer is said aloud and then quietly, usually synchronised to one's breathing: (while inhaling the practicioner prays) "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God..." (then, while exhaling) "...have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen."  The goal is that the prayer will become a part of our bodies' natural rythms and become internalized as an unceasing prayer of the heart.  The Bible and the Ancient traditions take very seriously the unity of body, mind, and spirit (many of us know this from experience; for one Biblical example of spiritual anxiety having physical effects, see Psalm 32).

I have found the Jesus Prayer very useful as the "basic" or foundational prayer that my mind first turns to when I am seeking to enter into prayer.  I have used it as a prayer for meditation (occasionally with Anglican Prayer Beads), meditating upon the meanings of the names and titles of Christ, as well as my own need for God's saving and renewing grace, and found this to be a powerful experience.  I commend this prayer to all believers for prayer, reflection, and transformation.

As with all Christian prayer, weather spontaneous or handed down in a traditional form, the highest goal is fellowship and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life in this world and the age to come (see John 14:6; John 17:3).