The Jesus Prayer – Create Silence

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

In the previous session we understood about the ‘free use’ of the Jesus Prayer, such that the Prayer gradually pervades every part of our daily life, enabling each activity and each personal encounter to be Spirit-filled. So now in the second place, what is the function of the ‘fixed’ use of the Jesus Prayer?

In today’s time, when we are assailed by mobile offices and music in our ears, we might be advised to create silence in our lives. Silence – the universal language, as described by Fr. Lawrence Freeman, is one of the primary sources of our personhood, and without it we are not authentically human. In the words of Friedrich von Hugel, “Man is what he does with his silence.”

Yet what do we mean by silence? In it’s deep spiritual sense, silence is not negative but positive, not an emptiness or void but a fullness. “Silence is a presence,” said Georges Bernanos, “at the heart of it is God.” In Psalms, we are told, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 45:10). The Psalmist does not merely enjoin  us to refrain from speech, but in positive terms urges us to be aware of the Divine: “Know that I am God.” Silence in the religious sense signifies God-awareness. What matters in silence is not our external situation but our inner disposition. It is a matter, not of keeping our mouth shut, but of opening our heart to God.

Silence, then, properly understood, implies not isolation but relationship. In the context of worship, it denotes not rejection of the Other but acceptance. It is an attitude of receptivity and, shove all, of listening. Like the child Samuel in the temple, the one who seeks silence is appealing to God: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (1 Sam 3:9-10). Silence implies ‘being with’, in an alert manner: a losing and finding of oneself in the Other.

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The key to prayer is listening. If we look at the icons written of our Holy Mother Mary, we see the person gazing up to heaven in prayer. The one who is silent – the hesychast (to use the correct Orthodox term) – is on par in excellence with the one who listens, who waits expectantly upon the Spirit.

Yet, when we pray, how can we manage to stop talking and to start listening? This is a crucial difficulty faced by many who seek to acquire inner prayer; and it is here that the Jesus Prayer helps us. Many a times when we try to be still, we are assaulted by a stream of distracting thoughts. The thoughts may not necessarily be impure or evil, but they are aimless and futile, irrelevant to the work of prayer. What are we to do? The solution is to satisfy our every active mind by assigning to it a simple and unifying task – the repeated invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus. St Theophan the Recluse said, “You must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of the One only.”

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in words, yet it is also a prayer of listening, a contemplative prayer that enables us to wait on the Spirit. When we invoke the Holy Name, our attitude is the same as that of icon drawn of Mother Mary, with her hands raised to heaven. Because the words of the prayer are few and straight forward, and because they are regularly repeated, it is a prayer that leads us through words into silence; or, more exactly, that enables us to discover the silence hidden at the heart of the words.

Sometimes, when saying the Jesus Prayer, we will be moved to stop repeating the words and merely to dwell in God’s presence, quiet and recollected. Our best moments of prayer often take that form. On such occasions, let us then suspend the Prayer for a time, until we find that our mind is wandering astray; and then we can once more resume the invocation “Lord Jesus…”. However, it is important to persist with a concentrated effort in the actual recitation of the words of the Jesus Prayer. St John Climacus rightly insisted, ” Contain your mind within the words of prayer. ”

Unless we are great saints, it is but natural to find our ourselves suffering with distracting thoughts. What we have to do, every time our thoughts have wandered, is to being them back to the work of prayer. This we must do again and again, without being discouraged. This is where Jesus Prayer helps us – we have only to take up one more the regular invocation of the Holy Name.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

 

Reference: The Jesus Prayer – Bishop Kallistos Ware

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