Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another Jesus Prayer

I have just started a series of "Summer Seminar" Sundays at Trinity United in Oakville. For five Sundays: July 4,11,18 and August 22 and 29, I am teaching about the Lord's Prayer. Some of my inspiration for this series comes from Becoming Jesus Prayer: Transforming Your Life Through the Lord's Prayer, by Gregory V. Palmer, Cindy M. McCalmont and Brian K. Milford. These three authors are all ministers in the United Methodist Church in Iowa.

The book was designed as a guide for a 7 session group study. I am adapting some of their material, and adding to it, and presenting my own version as the "sermon time".

The context for these presentations is a modified version of the typical Sunday morning service, shortened and simplified for summer time worship. I have thought for a long time that people who make the effort to come to a non-air conditioned sanctuary for worship on a sunny summer Sunday morning deserve at least 2 things: a sermon that nurtures their faith and a service that is a bit shorter!

This summer I am also experimenting with what I hope will be a more contemplative style of worship- a format that has built into it more opportunities for silence, reflection, and prayerful encounter with God.

I spoke about prayers we know by heart, and the potential that the use of memorized prayers has to help us make the journey from our "heads to our hearts".

There is a tradition amongst Eastern Orthodox Christians of something called "hesychasm", which is essentially "prayer without ceasing". I was first introduced to this way of prayer in a little book called The Way of a Pilgrim, which is the story of a Russian spiritual seeker who lived in he mid 19th century. He describes receiving instruction on this way of prayer from a "starets", an Orthodox monastic priest and spiritual director, who read to him from a classic text on the subject called the Philokalia:

"Find a quiet place to sit alone and in silence; bow your head and shut your eyes. Breathe softly, look with your mind into your heart; recollect your mind-- that is, all its thoughts-- and bring them down from your mind into your heart. As you breathe, repeat: ' Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me'- either quietly with your lips, or only in your mind. Strive to banish all thoughts; be calm and patient, and repeat this exercise frequently."

Much of the rest of The Way of the Pilgrim is description of this seeker's internal journey, and wandering in the world, as he deepens in his practice of this discipline of prayer. While the object of any true contemplative practice is not a temporary spiritual high, but only to live with a deeper awareness of God, it is still encouraging, and exciting to read these words from near the end of the book:

"The prayer of the heart delighted me so much that I thought there could be no one happier than I in the whole world and could not imagine how there would be any greater or deeper contentment in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not only did I experience all this within my soul, but everything around me appeared to be enchanting and inspired me with love for and gratitude to God. People, trees, plants, and animals- I felt kinship with them all..."