Friday, June 01, 2007

Delving Deeply into the Jesus Prayer

Theophan the Recluse says:
"Delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer." Martin Laird speaks in his book Into the Silent Land of the use of the Prayer word as a doorway into the communion realm of Christ in every day life as well as formal silence. He advises us not to think of this as magic or as something mechanical, and he is right. I have written in my book, Breathing Yeshua, in the opening of the first chapter, " Our inner spiritual work turns on the tension of the mind's compulsion for control and the freedom of the heart's willingness to open and surrender in love. " This interior opening then, of the heart, the center of our being, to surrender to and in Christ's Love is this doorway. The Jesus Prayer, as we delve the depths of it, leads us not into magical thinking, but into the very Heart of Christ, who is mercy. What arises in the mind as we try to approach this limitless Mercy that we know as the Christ experience, are all our resistances to surrender, to releasing from the mind's compulsions for control. If we think about our "mental obsessions" sometimes called demons in the desert tradition, they are all about the compulsion for control in some form or other. And we live in a universe where we have no control ultimately over external things, we only have the choice to give ourselves in love to God in life, and in each moment. What allows us to make this surrender is trust in the Realm of Mercy that we know as Christ. And the root word for Faith, Fidare, or Fides (Latin), is trust or to trust in, to be entrusted to. We leap then, in this praxis of Faith. We leap in longing for our true heart's desire. The Heart knows what we frequently do not know, in our souls too often dominated by culture and the ego-mind, that our heart's desire is Christ, our Beginning and our End, our Life's completion, our true Beloved. Our Heart knows that the false refuges of the mind offer no true solace or home, no strategy for control, and that there is only one true Refuge, to Abide in Yeshua's Love, as he has invited.

These are words of love, but what do they have to do with everyday, every moment existence, our practice of the prayer word? The prayer word, and most especially when our prayer word is the name of the Beloved of our Heart, is the homing pigeon, the anchor in what is real and true. It is the reminder of our continual bowing to our Beloved and the offering of our soul, our life, and all human existence as we know it, all of Creation's suffering to the Realm of Mercy. This is the only medicine for the healing of our obsessions for control. It is an every-moment practice.

I have a clear recollection pointing to this Realm of Mercy, coming to me from my earliest days in school. I grew up much of the time attending Roman Catholic parochial schools in a pre-Vatican II era. This was an expectation of all dutiful Catholic parents of that time, even for a single parent mother, as was my mother. I remember one of the prayer gestures given to me by nuns who taught me was this: -"When you are in distress, or when you hear of another soul in distress, when you hear an ambulance pass by, when you find yourself disappointed in life, when you find yourself discouraged, no matter what is happening to you or to another, when you think of the tragic things happening to people in the world, think of Jesus and "offer up" whatever it is, to that greater Mercy that is Him, because it matters, for oneself and for all."

Now at the time I don't pretend to have understood what precisely all that meant, but intuitively it seemed "right". It fit. No doubt there were some nuns, or some students who incorporated that practice as a form of magical thinking. But I did not pretend, even then, that my prayerful practice would necessarily change events or remove suffering from the world. Yet, it always gave me somewhere to go, and it fed the trust in the Greater Life, the Greater Mercy, the Greater Healing that encompasses us all. It was a true practice of Faith, then as a first, second, or third grader, and it is today.

Therefore it is important for us to look upon our practice of the prayer word in this way. It is a meeting of a contemplative prayer of union and a contemplative prayer of mercy (what we call intercessory prayer), for ourselves and for all God's creatures, all beings who inhabit our universe. When we truly let go of the mind's compulsion for control, and bow and offer our life and existence and everything in it, in love and givenness, in self-surrender and self-relinquishment, we become accessible to the God of Infinite Mercy who is total Self-Gift in Christ to us. There are practical teachings to be learned, yet this is not a mental technique. It is our lifetime of home-coming, and our Prayer Word is our calling out in love to the One who is our Home, as love beacon, and it will last until we draw our last breath and open to a finality of healing in the welcoming arms of the Divine Beloved who is the Source and Goal of our prayer. What was taught to me as a first grader has not changed. What I can do always is "offer it up." The "It" I am offering, I have learned, is everything in life. And I have come to know that there is a Greater who Offers and Receives in me. Our souls are the medium of this Eucharistic banquet of Life of God's Gift of Self to us and our self-giving to God. We are the consecrated bread and wine, lifted up in Christ, each moment of life and given, joined in the eternal wedding banquet and with the Bridegroom.

To me this what it means to delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer, or the true meaning of our prayer word.

Peace and Blessings to all,

Bill Ryan