Friday, October 22, 2010

Desert Spirituality for the Emerging Church 6

This series has been looking at monastic spirituality and how it can be appropriated in the church for today. One essential practice of any Christian spirituality is prayer. The monks were certainly no exception to this, so let us turn to one practice from the Eastern church which I believe can be very fruitful for our postmodern context: the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer, according to John Meyendorff, is "at the center of all hesychast spirituality." It comes in a few different forms, but is most usually:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Practiced in primitive form since ancient times, the Jesus Prayer is a primary tool for pursuing the monastic goal of "circumscrib[ing] the Incorporeal in a dwelling of flesh" (St. John Climacus, from The Ladder of Divine Ascent). According to Bishop Kallistos Ware (as cited by Father Edward Rommen), the Jesus Prayer has 4 main activities:

  1. devotion to the name of Jesus as something almost sacramental in nature
  2. an appeal for divine mercy, accompanied by inward grief
  3. frequent repetition
  4. the quest for silence
We are not monks. We do not spend 12 hours a day in prayer, nor are we free from the distractions of jobs, family life, and so on. Many of us, myself included, do not come from traditions in which we the use of formulaic prayers has been encouraged. Whether or not we should would require a whole separate series, but if we would like to begin learning from that tradition, the Jesus Prayer is a great place to start. It is not long, is easily memorized, and is useful for a variety of purposes, whether we are praying for some specific need, repenting of some sin, quietly contemplating, or in times of urgent distress.

Up next: A musical interpretation of the Jesus Prayer

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