Lately I am keep being reminded of ‘heart prayers’; prayers that move us “from head to heart”; from a limited and partial dimension of our lives (what we are consciously able to think about at any given time) to the centre of our whole being; prayers that are repeated on the lips and in the mind until they are embedded deep within us.
I am reminded of them at yoga on Monday nights – “deep breath in, long breath out, deep breath in, long breath out.” (Especially when we have the joy of Monica Holly being home for a short time to lead us!) And by friends and others who advise me to engage in breathing practices to calm to body and still the mind.
All reminders and variations of the Jesus prayer that I started praying at university and which I have rediscovered as a life-giving practice in the last year. It is the oldest form of ‘heart prayer’ and combines the prayer of the tax collector from Luke 18:13 (“God, be merciful to me a sinner”) with the earliest confession of the Christian church (“Jesus is Lord”). As you breath in deeply you pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…” and as you breath out slowly, you pray, “…have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And last week, when I taught the youth Sunday School class for Alex Grove it came up again. As they read Luke 21:5-19, about the persecution of the early Christian community, they were encouraged to think about the different ways we can care for ourselves when anxious and fearful – including prayer. “Prayer focuses our minds and helps our bodies relax,” said the notes. “Prayer is like asking God to hold our worry for us for a little while. Prayer has power beyond our understanding.… [Deep breathing and repeating a set phrase] acts as a focus for prayer and a way of relaxing into the presence of God.”
And so, we were encouraged to come up with our own Jesus Prayer. To think of the name we want to use for God (Loving God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Holy One, Great Spirit, Comforter, Holy Friend…), and to say that as we breath in deeply, and then, as we breath out slowly, to pray the words we want to pray (Comfort me and lift me up, Give me courage and hope, Show me the way, Touch me and heal me).
And then, preparing for today, I came across this reading from Brother Ramon’s When they Crucified My Lord: [The repentant thief] called Jesus by his first and saving name….Every novice who enters Orthodox monastic life on Mount Athos receives a prayer rope and a simple instructions on saying the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is the basic prayer I have been saying for over 25 years and the one which will carry me into the arms of my Lord Jesus in life and in death. It is the prayer that sounds continually in my heart, and which enfolds me to his heart – the prayer that lays hold on the saving name of Jesus and proves it to be the name of the Saviour of the world.
Amen! Amen! Belinda