Monday, November 07, 2011

On not needing to know…

Because we cannot ever “see the heart” as God sees, we cannot really know what is good for us, and especially what is good for others. We don’t know what their true needs are, what is the best solution to their problems, what would assuage their pain. But we don’t need to know. The Jesus Prayer can become for us a powerful way of intercession, of praying for others. By praying the Holy Name over them, by embracing them in our thoughts and our hearts, we surrender each one of them to God’s mercy and love and we trust that God will do what is best for them.

When we intercede for others in this way, when we bring them all to the mercy of Christ—the good and the bad, those whom we love and those whom we cannot love, those who love us and those who hate us—we do what the Lord has told us to do and what he himself did on the cross. This is the great way of love to which he has called us, and is also our work, the only work that truly matters, the work of love.

Irma Zaleski, Living the Jesus Prayer, Canterbury Press, 2011

I’ve written about this intercessory aspect of the Jesus Prayer elsewhere; I have often been troubled by our propensity to analyse problems and tell God what he should do about them—as if we could know! What God calls us to is nothing more nor less than love: simply to care enough carry in our hearts before him our sisters and brothers in creation, human or otherwise; to rejoice with their joys, weep for their pain, cry out with them in their bafflement and their loss…

The first two verses of Psalm 131 read:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
   my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
   too great and too marvellous for me.

This is the very spirit of praying intercession in the Jesus Prayer. Sophrony Sakharov wrote:

The Jesus Prayer will incline us to find each human being unique, the one for whom Christ was crucified. Where there is great love the heart necessarily suffers and feels pity for every creature, in particular for man; but our inner peace remains secure, even when all is in confusion in the world outside...

It has fallen to our lot to be born into the world in an appallingly disturbed period. We are not only passive spectators but to a certain extent participants in the mighty conflict between belief and unbelief, between hope and despair, between the dream of developing mankind into a single universal whole and the blind tendency towards dissolution into thousands of irreconcilable national, racial, class or political ideologies. Christ manifested to us the divine majesty of man, son of God, and we withal are stifled by the spectacle of the dignity of man being sadistically mocked and trampled underfoot. Our most effective contribution to the victory of good is to pray for our enemies, for the whole world. We do not only believe in - we know the power of true prayer...

His Life Is Mine, pp. 127-128

(Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov lived through the years of the Russian Revolution, World War II, and the Cold War. A Russian, he prayed in community at Mount Athos, and later helped found The Monastery of St. John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, England. Fr. Sophrony wrote, and taught, on the practice of the Jesus Prayer, and it was to this practice that his life was given.)

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Jesus Prayer is the universality of its calling: anyone, ordained or lay, secular or religious, learned or otherwise, can pray this prayer. It requires no qualifications. Its use is not limited to any one denomination. It is prayed, and taught, from the Orthodox Church, through the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran, the Anglican, and Methodist churches to the Vineyard. (Who knows how many others are involved…) If any of us senses God calling us to this way of prayer, there is nothing to prevent us from just starting—it may turn out to be the answer years of misgivings and difficulties in prayer…

1 comment:

  1. I haven't had much experience with the Jesus Prayer. I really like hearing about it from you. I've been doing some centering prayer lately (I love Father Thomas Keating SO MUCH! I could listen to him all day).

    "Where there is great love the heart necessarily suffers and feels pity for every creature, in particular for man; but our inner peace remains secure, even when all is in confusion in the world outside..."

    Ahh, now that's a beautiful thing. And a hard thing for me to attain :)