Saturday, November 6, 2010

Desert Spirituality for the Emerging Church 7

The previous post in this series explored the historical significance of the Jesus Prayer in its original Eastern Orthodox monastic context. This post will discuss one example of how such an ancient prayer is being utilized fruitfully today.

At Emmaus Way, our worship pastor, Wade Baynham, composed a contemplative musical version of the Jesus Prayer (available for purchase on iTunes here). About 7 minutes long, the song shifts through a variety of musical styles and moods. Repeating only the lyrics, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner; Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me", the song begins in a minor, somewhat unsettling key, with strong percussion and a Middle Eastern sound. As the song continues, the music shifts from a minor to a major key, and becomes less percussive, signaling the shift from confession to absolution. Though the music is contemporary, the traditional repetition of the Jesus Prayer is emphasized. This musical version of the Jesus Prayer is available to be listened to online, and our hope is that other communities and individuals would make use of it. Perhaps in this small way the Jesus Prayer can be experienced for the first time among those unfamiliar with hesychast tradition.

In our present context we do not generally have a monastic cell we can retreat to. We certainly live in a time and place of much greater population density than the hesychasts. But many of us can put in earphones, shut out the world, and listen to contemplative music as a way of focusing the mind on God. As with the desert monastics' use of prayer techniques, using music in this way should be seen as a tool for growing still and focusing the mind on God for prayer and worship, and never overemphasized as an end in itself.