Life is unpredictable. We can be happy one day and sad the next, healthy one day and sick the next, rich one day and poor the next, alive one day and dead the next. So who is there to hold on to? Who is there to feel secure with? Who is there to trust at all times?
Only Jesus, the Christ. He is our Lord, our shepherd, our rock, our stronghold, our refuge, our brother, our guide, and our friend. He came from God to be with us. He died for us, he was raised from the dead to open for us the way to God, and he is seated at God's right hand to welcome us home. With Paul, we must be certain that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux), p.29
The Jesus Prayer is for me the most perfect, tiny encapsulation of this. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…” In those words lie all the trust, all the security, of faith itself.
Of course we won’t always feel like that. The worms of doubt and the sinkholes of despair will always be there waiting. Years of learned responses, years of self-denigration, will claim the day as their own. That’s what is so good about a prayer like the Jesus Prayer. Praying in the Spirit is all very well, but the enemy of our souls can so easily set up impenetrable barricades in our hearts before we can react, or even notice. But a prayer that is so simple, that has been repeated formally and informally day after day, month after month, doesn’t need consciousness of the Spirit’s presence. We can say those words however dry, however broken we are, however meaningless they seem.
They are not meaningless. This is not some pattern of nonsense syllables: this is a prayer to the Son of the living God, and he will answer. He will. Nothing else could have brought me through some of the darkest days of the last ten years or so.
For all that I’ve written so often here about the intercessory and contemplative aspects of the Jesus Prayer, we mustn’t be too high-minded to remember its sheer usefulness as a lifebelt. But, and it is perhaps a big but, it won’t be as much use as it should be if we merely keep it on a shelf for emergencies. The Jesus Prayer is a way of life, a practice as demanding in itself of faithfulness and mindfulness as any path of Christian prayer. Only when it becomes a habit as close as one’s own heartbeat can it open the door of our broken heart to the Lord who stands at the door and knocks, whether we know it or not…