Hunting as I do daily over the links provided by our valuable and indefatigable allies at Synlogos, I am struck again, as I have of late been more and more often, with the bootlessness of it all.
Our struggle looks doomed. As usual.
What mundane prince might save us? None, at the last. For, we are all doomed to die. We are doomed to lose all that to which we have devoted our lives, including our progeny and their heirs, all of whom shall like us, and like the grass, wither away. That shall all happen, no matter the outcome of the midterm elections, or the war in Ukraine, or … of anything else whatever.
Mundane princes then are in the final analysis neither here nor there. While it behooves us as a matter of plain duty to attend to their motions, still in the end they amount to nothing. All that matters to us in our private persons is our ultimate reconciliation – each of us – with ultimate reality.
Pray then with me the Jesus Prayer, as often as you can remember to do so:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
Nothing could be more lethal to our worldly adversary, and to his designs.
I pray the Jesus Prayer – often spontaneously; and recognize its value.
However, I regard it as limited because ‘defensive’. When we seek to be positively inspired, energized, creative – we need a different kind of prayer.
That is obvious enough! I suppose I am just issuing a corrective to the notion that we ought to strive to say the Jesus Prayer all-the-time, 24/7 – as advocated in The Way of a Pilgrim, where many westerners first encountered the prayer – via JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.
I find the Jesus Prayer profoundly energizing, not so much I think because it opens up new channels of creative ingress to my life, as because it reminds me of that ceaseless torrent of creative love that we all always enjoy, which confers upon us our very being, and our capacity to enjoy – such is mercy – so that I then let go of the crabbed anxious attention I would otherwise devote to mundane problems that would obscure God’s love. It doesn’t add new energy to life, but rather reduces the impediments thereto introduced by my own defects.
As to whether we ought to pray the Jesus Prayer in particular all the time, I don’t think it matters. But we are instructed by the Apostle to pray constantly *in one way or another* (I Thessalonians 5:17), and the Jesus Prayer is a way to accomplish that with minimal cognitive resources. I told my spiritual director that I was saying the Lord’s Prayer when I had insomnia. His response: “Too complicated a prayer, too rich with spiritual implications and meanings, so you pretty much have to stay awake to pray it; when you have insomnia, pray something utterly simple like the Jesus Prayer or In Manus Tuas.” He was right, of course.
“God come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me” is another good one.
“Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death” is one of my personal favorites. In the “exorcism” sense, I have used St Benedicts old exorcism to great effect: “Get behind me, Satan! What you have offered is evil, drink the poison yourself!”
The list is nearly infinite, and beautifully so.
Indeed, it seems clear to me that the ways of praying must as a matter of logic be infinite simpliciter, period full stop. In no other way could our lives be everlasting.
Lived right, life per se is a liturgy. And there are an infinite quantity of things we might do; e.g., to take the simplest example, there is no limit to the number of times we can reiterate the Jesus Prayer! Because anything we might do can be an act of worship, and so a prayer for – and thus an intention of – the Good, so then there must be an infinite variety of prayers.
The infinite variety of prayers is a type of the infinite variety of musical compositions.
Which leads to an interesting consideration – interesting to this old choirboy, anyway: there are an infinite number of ways that any given musical composition can be performed, even if we restrict their variations to the times and places of their performances (as would be the case, e.g., with a record of a single performance played now here, now there). Likewise, every iteration of the Jesus Prayer, or of any other, is somehow different from any other; is, i.e., somehow new. Thus the inexhaustible and fathomless depths of each composition, and likewise of each prayer: with each iteration, some new thing is revealed for the first time.
Praying constantly can also involve many little things in your life. Like thanking God after going to the toilet that your bowels are working. Or that beautiful sunshine outside your window. As much as it is about requests when you are worrying about something or cannot sleep.
There is a quietism of resignation and a quietism of renunciation. Resignation is often realistic, but the wicked servant who buried his talent does come to mind. So does the lesson of Martha and Mary, so our instructions are not altogether clear. My instinct is that those with Martha’s talent for practical industry should not bury that talent and attempt to be Mary. Those with Mary’s talent for adoration should likewise to themselves be true. But those who follow Mary into quiet adoration should examine their motives pretty closely. Are they really unworldly or simply afraid of the world?
To be sure; as our friends Francis Berger and Bruce Charlton remind us, there is for the Christian – for the would be saint, i.e. – no possible surcease from careful discernment.
One of the great things about the Jesus Prayer, I find, is that it absolutely does not get in the way of doing Martha’s work. On the contrary, it makes that work easier, more fluid, more effective and efficient, and indeed more fun; one apprehends more readily the beauty in it, and so the joy of it. Which puts an end to Martha’s grumbling! I often find too that I’ll be working away on the dishes or something, saying the Jesus Prayer when I remember it, and then once I get a good rhythm going, insights on various difficulties – whether practical or philosophical – will come to me unsought, so that I have to stop both the prayer and the dishwashing to write them down before I forget them.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that the rhythm of the Jesus Prayer, once it is well established, tends to entrain and regulate and smooth my other motions. The rhythm of the prayer will become the rhythm of the dishwashing. Then the dishwashing becomes something like a dance.
Finally, the more I say the Jesus Prayer, the more I remember to say the Jesus Prayer; and the more I say the Jesus Prayer, the better I feel, the better I sleep, the better I work. The tenor of life is better. Holiness is easier, sin less interesting. Fear and anxiety fall away; serenity and courage well up to take their place. I more notice the beauty of creation, and it ravishes me more often and more throughly.
Whereas if I mind the principalities and powers, everything gets worse.
Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.
Another good one, thanks Dr. Bill; and especially apt for criminals such as we, all of whom far more deserve the Cross than did our Savior.
This has really helped me. When I was praying the Jesus prayer today, what came to my mind was that God’s mercy is not just for sin, it is also there so that God can repair my defects and help me live in the way I ought under the brutal assault of both my personal situation and the general world situation, despite my failures and weaknesses in both realms.
Thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ for His mercy on me, a sinner.
Good work, Sean. You are right about God’s mercy. Indeed, it goes even deeper: God is merciful to us in giving us the verymost basic gift, that of being from each moment to the next, from each decision to the next, and of the power to act. His mercy provides us the ontological wherewithal *even to sin.*
The power to sin is logically entailed by the capacity to perfect our natures and our purposes under Providence by avoiding it. So, yes, in praying the Jesus Prayer (and all the other prayers, too), we are praying, not just that God forgive us for our past defective acts, but that he help us penetrate the moral fog they have generated, so that we can see and seek his Light. We ask, not just to get out from under our self-imposed burden of sin, but *to become glorified beacons of his Light.*
What is more, there is nothing we can do that can possibly overcome his immense, overwhelming mercy. Our sins can occlude it, but cannot defeat it. He *cannot* lose. His loss is an ontological impossibility.
That’s all beyond my understanding honestly.
It’s enough if i can keep walking through this valley.
It’s beyond understanding, period full stop. Heck, almost everything is beyond our complete understanding, when you get right down to it!
That said, we can begin to understand it, and grow in understanding. My understanding of that donative aspect of God’s mercy – which is called prevenient grace – took a giant leap forward last Sunday, thanks to the sermon of my Dominican pastor. We derive the power to understand, to think – and to pray – from the prior donation to us by God of that power. Chills up and down the spine, of holy dread, when one thinks about it enough to let it really soak in. Amazing.