They asked Abba Macarius, ‘How should we pray?’ And the old man replied, ‘There is no need to speak much in prayer; often stretch out your hands and say, “Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me.” But if there is war in your soul, add, “Help me!” and because he knows what we need, he shows mercy on us.’
From: The Desert of the Heart: Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers ed. Benedicta Ward SLG, Darton Longman & Todd, 1988.
This is the beginning of what we now know as the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ The discipline is so simple that our sophisticated minds rebel against it – as no doubt did the minds of many of Macarius’ sophisticated Greek and Egyptian intellectual hearers – but it is simplicity alone that can carry the weight of of our brokenness, and the world’s:
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
TS Eliot, Four Quartets: 4, Little Gidding