SOUL FOOD Talk 2: The Jesus Prayer [Parts 1&2] & Writing Your Own Prayers [Part 3]–
[1.] THE JESUS PRAYER — The classical form of the Jesus Prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The actual words of our short prayers can vary. We might say the classic version of the Jesus Prayer, or we might say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” We may say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy.” A favorite ejaculation or scripture would be excellent–try to incorporate the name of Jesus. You can make the prayer intercessory by adding: [have mercy] “on the whole world.” MAKE THE PRAYER YOURS; MAKE IT FIT YOU. Try to use the same form/s continuously so that it will enter deeply into your subconscious and into your heart.
[2.] BIBLICAL ORIGIN: Theologically, the Jesus Prayer is considered to be the response of the Holy Tradition to the lesson taught by the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming: “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like the Publican,” whereas the Publican prays correctly in humility, saying, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18: 10-14)
[3.] THE HISTORY OF THE JESUS PRAYER goes back, as far as we know, to the early sixth century, with Diadochos, who taught that repetition of the prayer leads to inner stillness. Even earlier, St. John Cassian (360-435 ad) who spent quite a few years in the Egyptian desert, did bequeath one absolutely essential gift to western contemplation: the use of a sacred phrase as a “prayer word” for focusing one’s attention while learning to pray through the splendor of the silence that exists “between the words” of our thinking minds.
[4.] PRAY CEASELESSLY –-We are all called to pray without ceasing, says St. Paul in Thess. 5:17. The real question is, how. The Jesus Prayer provides one good way to pray constantly. In fact, the Jesus Prayer is the widespread and most specifically Orthodox spiritual prayer. Our task is to draw nearer to God. St. Isaac of Syria says that it is impossible to draw near to God by any means other than increasing prayer.
[5.] THE POWER IN THE NAME –Biblically, knowing a person’s name gave power over that person. Name was linking with being. To speak God’s name, YAHWEH, was to invoke the power, presence, and being of God Himself, so the Hebrews would not say it; but out of respect used ADONAI (Lord) instead. In the New Testament, Jesus explicitly gives us God’s name, FATHER, and tells us to use the name in prayer Jesus gives us access to the Godhead through the name. Jesus told His Apostles that they hadn’t really used His Name in prayer enough. “Hitherto you have nothing in My Name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23).
[6.] WHEN TO PRAY The Jesus Prayer is recommended in a block of 10-30 minutes once a day, at your preferred prayer time. (Begin with 10, and increase as you mature in prayer). This is the “formal” use of the prayer. The second form of the Jesus Prayer is the “free” use of the prayer. This means at any and all other times of the day, or night. This is especially true for the semi-automatic tasks such as driving, doing dishes, walking, being unable to sleep, etc. The Jesus Prayer is notably useful in time of extreme concern, upset, or temptation.
When alone, we might find it helpful to pray the Jesus Prayer, out loud. This can help lower the distraction level. In the beginning, you can also use a beautiful chanted or sung version to help you get started.
[7.] SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS: Don’t feel hurried or pressed to “finish” the beads. Lovingly “work” each bead with all the longing and adoration and humility of your heart. Don’t feel compelled even to “finish” the words of the prayer form you have chosen. Sometimes it is enough to taste the name of the Lord and let it linger on the tongue and the heart. Don’t hesitate to change your prayer in the middle of the beads if a different prayer enters your heart, but gently return to the rhythm of the prayer when it is next feasible for you. To close, even if you are in the middle of the beads, say a spontaneous prayer to the Lord or to Mary, make the sign of the Cross, and kiss your crucifix.
[8.] PRAYER OF THE HEART – The Jesus Prayer is also called the Prayer of the Heart. In Orthodoxy, the mind and heart are to be used as one. St Theophan tells us to keep our “mind in the heart“ at all times. Heart means the innermost core of the person, the spirit. Heart means our innermost chamber, our secret dwelling place where God lives. There is within us a space, a field of the heart, in which we find a Divine Reality, and from which we are called to live. The mind, then, is to descend into that inner sanctuary, by means of the Jesus Prayer or wordless contemplation, and to stay there throughout our active day, and evening. We descend with our mind into our heart, and we live there. The heart is Christ’s palace. There, Christ the King comes to take His rest. I like to think of the Jesus Prayer as my “door” to enter my inner sanctuary any time I can.
[9.] SILENCE is a choice. Silence, at its best, is God-awareness. We quiet down our outer and inner lives, and listen to God speak. Someone said that when God speaks, His words are like the sound of a flutter of a bird’s wings. We need to be attentive if we are to hear anything. Inner silence can usually be achieved only by substituting one thought for another. Hence, the Jesus Prayer overrides our usual compulsive stream of consciousness about our own anxieties. Beginning with this form of prayer, then we might be led to deeper inner stillness, prayer without words (CONTEMPLATION). The caution here is that prayer without words is not heaviness, semi-sleep dullness. Rather, wordless prayer is alive, vigorous God-awareness.
[10.] CONTEMPLATION is a gift of God, a direct meeting with a personal God, on God’s terms. This special kind of inner silence, inner stillness, is experienced by wordless sitting, imageless contemplation. When consciousness strays, a phrase like “Lord Jesus” can be used to bring the mind back, and then the person sits quietly in the presence of the Lord. The desire of wordless sitting awareness is to open oneself to God, to listen to God. Both the Jesus Prayer and contemplation make us single-centered, concentrating upon the here and now, focused, one-pointed. The point is God.
[11.] PRAYER ROPES/BEADS– Orthodox prayer ropes are usually soft and made of wool. The purpose is to help us concentrate, not necessarily to count. In the famous book, The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim said the prayer 2,000, then 6,000, then 12,000 times. Are 12,000 Jesus Prayers better than 2,000? Absolutely not. Quantity has nothing to do with love, and a living relationship with Jesus. The pilgrim did 12,000, no more and no less, as an act of obedience to his spiritual father, not because he was “making progress.” He also prayed much because that was his “heart’s desire.” Every prayer is an act of love, made to the Author of Love, Who is waiting expectantly for our desire, and our acceptance of His Love.
[12.] THE JESUS PRAYER AS HEALING – As medicine, the Jesus Prayer is destructive of the passions and altering of conduct. Just as a doctor places a dressing on a patient’s wound, and the dressing works without the patient’s knowing how, calling on the Name of God “removes the passions” without our knowing how and why, according to Sts. Barsanupius and John of the Egyptian desert.
The Holy Name, when repeated quietly, penetrates the soul rather like a drop of oil, spreading out and impregnating a cloth. Our modern translation of “mercy” is limited and insufficient. “Mercy” comes from the Greek eleison. Eleison has the same root as elaion which means olive and olive oil. In the Middle East, olive oil provides physical healing for many sicknesses, particularly respiratory. “Have mercy” means to have “healing oil” on my soul.
The Fathers tell us that praying the Sacred Name changes our personality, from overstrain to joy. “Hitherto you have asked nothing in myName; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:24). The Jesus Prayer functions as therapy, much like healing oil, transforming our personality from overstrain to joy, and by our continuing to pray, these changes become permanent.
[13.] PRIMARY SOURCE: Albert S. Rossi, “Saying the Jesus Prayer” – St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, http://www.svots.edu/content/saying-jesus-prayer
WEBSITE: Benefits of praying the Holy Name of Jesus — http://www.msgrjohnesseff.net/?page_id=84
THE JESUS PRAYER – PART 2, FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS
[14.] In the free use of the prayer the mission is to find Jesus everywhere. In the fixed or formal use of the prayer the mission is to create silence. It’s often hard enough to achieve exterior silence, to find a quiet time and place to pray. Even harder is to find interior silence; because of the way we are made, we hold a constant conversation with ourselves, our imaginations and minds constantly moving from trivial fleeting thoughts to those of greater consequence. As you settle down to prayer in a comfortable chair, after you have begun to quiet your spirit, you may want to read briefly from a favorite book or scriptures, or even to pray the rosary or other prayers meaningful to you. Then, as you begin the Jesus prayer, pray with your eyes closed.
[15.] The repetition of the simple formula, while being a heartfelt prayer, occupies our mind and imagination so that our hearts can enter into a deep silence, as we become conscious of the presence of the Lord. Fingering the Jesus beads occupies our bodies so that they too become participants, entering their own quiet– we do not fidget.
[16.] Focus on the words of the prayer to reduce distractions, even praying it aloud in the beginning. Central to the prayer is the name of Jesus: Lord Jesus Christ. All power is in that name above every other name. Son of God: beloved of the Father. In John 14, Philip tells Christ, “Show us the Father and it will be enough for us.” Jesus replies, “Philip, whoever sees me sees the Father.” Jesus is the outpouring of the Father’s heart. “Have mercy on me/us.” Remember the origin of “eleison” – from the root word for “olive”–the mercy of God is an anointing, a healing oil that soothes as it is absorbed.
“On me, a sinner: These words name the depth of our poverty, our frailty, our misery before the all-majestic and pure God. As soon as we empty ourselves of our pride and know our poverty, we can be truly filled. Remember that God is one, His mercy is one with His peace, His love, His light, His purity, His anointing Spirit that makes us one with Him. What we are really asking for is for our greatest and deepest need, whatever it is. Inevitably, it is the Holy Spirit itself. The more we pray the prayer, the deeper the teaching we will receive from the Holy Spirit.
[17.] As you pray, embrace your Lord in three ways:
embrace his feet in repentance, as you weep with Mary for His mercy. We ever have a need to embrace His feet in repentance. St. Philip Neri used to tell Jesus, “Keep your eye on Philip, Lord; he is likely to betray you.” Embracing the feet of Jesus is one of the hallmarks of the purgative way.
[18.] Embrace the Sacred Wound in His side as you pray to embrace the Father’s will along with Christ, more perfectly, entering into His passion. When we embrace His Sacred Wound in His side, His sacred heart, we recline on the breast of Christ like St. John at the last supper. There is no better place to learn our theology.
[19.] Embrace His sacred face as you pray, “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth” (Song of Songs, 1,1)-¬-as His mercy flows into you in the anointing of the Holy Spirit, making you one with Him as bride and beloved. St. Bernard of Clairvaux explains that Christ is the mouth of God (His incarnate Son). St. Bernard says: “Christ kisses us with the kisses of his mouth by giving us the Holy Spirit who makes possible this most intimate union between us individually and Christ.” Receiving the kisses of His mouth is one of the hallmarks of the unitive way.
[ 20]. As we are more and more greatly purified and illumined, we prepare ourselves like eager brides for the kisses of His mouth, the greater and deeper abiding in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Trinity.
[21.] In short, embrace Jesus, embrace the Father’s Will, embrace the Holy Spirit in repentence, in poverty, in reverent humility, in the fullness of your longing and desire to be one with the Blessed Trinity.
[22.] As time passes, you will find yourself embracing Christ in all three ways, depending on where you are in your spiritual journey. There are three definite stages in our spiritual journey acknowledged by the saints and by theologians: the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive. [ See Soul Food Talk 1, Expressions of Prayer] We generally find traces of all three in ourselves at different times. God has his rhythm and way with each one of us in our uniqueness. Yet one thing is sure, He calls every one of us to holiness; and holiness is perfect union with the Trinity. [ Read the reflection on Conchita. You may find this passage here in the First Soul Food Talk, Expressions of Prayer. Look at the end of the talk under sources: Soul Food Talk 1- Expressions of Prayer
PART III — WRITING YOUR OWN PRAYERS
[23.] Possibly it has never occurred to you to write your own prayers. Why would you do this? Well, as you know, much of our prayer is spontaneous, as simple as conversation that we have with Mary or Jesus, the Father, etc. Often this prayer is short, like ejaculations. But sometimes, I find the need to express more weighty concerns, and I have a hard time putting it together spontaneously. Many times as I’m reading, I come upon sentiments and ideas that pierce me in such a way that I want to make them into my own prayers. These are the types of prayers that I have begun to write for myself. Since they are particularly rich, I don’t just “say” them, but often pray them repeatedly in meditations.
[24.] I have written prayers often in my life, beginning when I was a teen. I felt so strongly that I wanted to give myself to God, and I wanted to express it in a tangible way, so I wrote a “Contract with Christ” when I was about 14. By writing it, I was able to meditate on it, remember it, and pray it as often as my heart was moved to do so. I have done this same type of thing several times since, the most notable one which I shared with you, my “Prayer of Immolation.” It contains so much of my spiritual aspirations and desires that I have long ago memorized it and pray it daily. Also, I shared with you 10 Acts of Spiritual Communion which I wrote during Advent, and which I still use throughout the day.
[25.] I encourage you to write some of your own prayers. Keep them in your spiritual journal, or have them laminated and keep them close for frequent use.
[26.] When I read Archbishop Luis Martinez’s book, UNDER THE GAZE OF THE FATHER, I came upon this passage on p. 83: “The love of Jesus is very pure. His Heart contains all of us, yet He loves but his Father. He walked the earth doing good, pouring out graces, giving life with generous abundance, setting the earth on fire with fire from heaven, but in reality, He did not seek anything other than the glory of God, nor did He accomplish other work than simplifying all things in the unity of His heart in order to plunge the universe into the pure bosom of God.“
[27.] I was astounded by the beauty and truth of that statement, and utterly taken by the part in italics. It seemed to me to summarize the entire mission of Our Christ. I meditated on the statement several times till I turned it into one of my favorite prayers:
“Lord Jesus Christ, simplify all things
in the unity of your Sacred Heart
in order to plunge the entire universe
into the pure bosom of the Blessed Trinity
so that God may be All in all.”
[28.] Like other prayers I have memorized this one and pray it often during the day. In one of her holy hours, Venerable Conquita declared: “I want to live and die hidden in a sacrifice…immolation, far away from every human glance, burning myself like incense in the midst of my roughness, with a constant death to all self-will. Help me, O my Life, to destroy within my heart every self-indulgence, consuming myself silently as the candle before Your altar.”
This one too, had to become my own prayer:
“Help me, O my Life, to destroy within my heart
every trace of self-will, self-love, self-indulgence.
Let me burn myself like incense, in all my roughness,
before Your Sacred Heart.”
[29.] Finally, let me share with you the actual prayer of Servant of God, Marthe Robin from the book NEW AND DIVINE, The Holiness of the Third Christian Millennium, by Hugh Owen. This prayer has given me many holy hours and hours of meditation and contemplation. Not only do I reflect on it, but I often augment it, add parts to it and ad lib my own prayers in between, as the Spirit dictates:
“Eternal Father, through the divine hearts of Jesus and Mary,
and through Your Spirit of Love, I offer you the sacred wounds of Jesus, my Savior,
His precious Blood, His adorable face, His priestly and Eucharistic Heart…in union with Mary, and in particular for the souls who are consecrated to You, and for your priests.
I offer You, Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom and Sovereign Good.
Into this purifying, peace-giving, and sanctifying furnace,
I cast, O my Father, all Your creatures,
that they may be open to regeneration, perfection, and love;
all those who have been led astray, who are doubtful, who are unbelieving;
all the poor sinners; and I beg You to receive them, to guard them,
to transform them, and to consume all of them in your immense love.
O Eternal Justice of the Sovereign and infinite Holiness of my God,
Behold Jesus. Be satisfied by the superabundant merits
that He has willed to deposit in me.
Repay Yourself infinitely, recompense Yourself with the Glory
You wrested from Lucifer and all his proud legions and later,
from wicked and unscrupulous souls.
O inexpressible and incomprehensible Love!
O supreme and infinite Charity,
Pierce our souls with the all-powerful flames of His Divine Heart!
Eternally receive, without any interruption, relaxation, weakening, or omission,
Your Jesus Christ, the Eternal Infinite in Whom I ceaselessly melt away
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with Mary my mother,
so that all of Your plans of love in the Church and in the world
may be perfectly accomplished.
My God, Your silence replies better than the many fervors of my love for You.
Take Jesus, all of Jesus, and deign to read for Yourself
in His divine thoughts, the untranslatable characters of fire
that Your Spirit of Charity has so deeply imprinted upon my soul
and in my whole being, melting into the heart of Your Unity, Your Will forevermore.”
[30.] An incomparable prayer. After rereading it a couple of times, I spontaneously added this new section:
In the fire of the Holy Spirit,
Be surfeited*, my Eternal and Beloved Father,
With Your Jesus!
Be surfeited with the Beloved of Your Heart and Will!
[31.] [Surfeited means satisfied beyond all measure, overflowing satisfaction.] This lengthy prayer is not one to memorize, but to use in written form for prayer and meditation, but remembering the content of Berthe’s prayer, I often pray the little part which I added, and which to me summarizes much of what I love about the prayer.
[32.] Maybe more accurate than calling this “writing prayers”, we could call this “finding prayers” though we do add our own personal stamp on them! As you read Sacred Scripture you may very well do the same thing, pulling forth the richness which especially speaks to your heart, adding your personal stamp, and making it a permanent part of your prayer life. The benefit of doing this, is that the new prayer which you create helps to drive the original ideas/inspirations deep into your mind and heart. They will stay a part of you, and the prayer will be there any time that you need to pray it because it has become a deep part of you and your spirituality.
[33.] I wanted to share with you also, one way that I have learned to use the Jesus Prayer itself as a “found” prayer. Once you have established the practice, you may want on occasion to vary it. Sometimes, when my heart is on Mary, our Mother, I will pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, have mercy on us.” The idea is to vary the second part. Other phrases that I use (and you can find your own favorites): “Beloved of the Father,” “Outpouring of the Father’s Heart,” etc. You get the idea.
[34.] As I have become totally in love with the Father’s Will, the Will of God in general, I discovered something special about Psalm 119. As a matter of fact back in April of 2012, I put an entry on our parish blog about it. The blog post follows:
[35.] As I have read and prayed with the bible over the past years, I have never known quite what to do with Psalm 119, the longest psalm. It follows the Hebrew alphabet with 8 verses in each section, 176 in all. Then one day some months ago I came upon the translation of ‘NUN” in the Liturgy of the Hours, ll. 111-112:
“Your will is my heritage for ever,
the joy of my heart.
I set myself to carry out your will
in fullness, for ever.”
[36.] The will of God has become my passion, as it is written:. “Thy will be done” in the Our Father. I know many of you have a true hunger to live God’s will in the sacrament of every moment. What I also loved in this last verse, “ I SET MYSELF TO CARRY OUT YOUR WILL…” reminded me of Jesus setting his face, “LIKE FLINT” toward Jerusalem, setting himself to His passion and crucifixion—a commitment his apostles just didn’t understand at the time, His true passion for His Father’s will (Luke 9:51). But when I looked up the same verses in my New American Bible, I found something quite different:
“Your decrees are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on fulfilling your laws,
they are my reward forever.”
[37.] This translation was a true disappointment to me. Yet I memorized and stored the first translation in my heart, praying it often, feeding on the Divine Will. Then last night, an idea came to me from the Holy Spirit—it brought me such joy, I wanted to share it with all of you. What are the “commands, the “laws,” the “decrees,” the “precepts, and the “edicts” of the Lord but His beloved DIVINE WILL? I began reading Psalm 119 from the beginning, substituting WILL for laws, decrees, edicts or precepts whenever it showed up in the text.
Here’s MEM, vs. 97-98:
“How I love your WILL, Lord!
I study it all day long.
Your WILL makes me wiser than my foes,
For it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
because I ponder your WILL.”
Or QOTH, vs. 145-146
“I call with all my heart, O Lord,
Answer me that I may observe your WILL.
I call to you to save me
that I may keep your WILL.”
In the Old Testament, God’s law was most significant to the Israelites, often translated as “decrees,” “commandments,” “edicts,” “words,” “commands,” “teachings,” “precepts,” even “promises.” What has supplanted or taken the place of the “law” in the Old Testament? God’s Will fulfilled in Christ. Where the Psalm reads “your word” or “your words” you can even substitute “Your WORD,” or “the SACRED HEART.” Let me share with you a little quotation from St. John of the Cross:
[the Father is speaking]
“Fix your eyes on Him alone, for in Him I have revealed all and in Him you will find
More than you could ever ask for or desire….In my Word I have already said everything.”
[39.] Here is a little prayer which I “found” this morning, from Psalm 119, ZAYIN, verse 54:
The original: “Your laws become my songs wherever I make my home.”
The found prayer: “Your Holy Will becomes my song wherever I make my home.”
From PE, verse 136:
The original: “My eyes shed streams of tears because your teaching is not followed.”
The found prayer: “My eyes shed streams of tears because Your Sacred Heart is not followed.”