Who Am I?

The Jesus Prayer 10 – Repentance

Posted: March 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 10 – Repentance

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Why does all this discussion about the receptive part of our minds matter? What does it mean that we have a darkened understanding or perception of reality and how is that different from intellectual knowledge and reasoning? In our day and in our culture, I think those are among the more natural questions to ask. Even within Christianity, many people act as though the only thing that really matters is that you believe the right things about God. And that’s a trap. It’s a trap when it comes to God and it’s a trap when it comes to prayer. It’s very easy to think, write, and discuss prayer while hardly ever actually praying. And it’s possible to think and teach about God, to intellectually believe something about God, and yet not do any of the things Jesus commanded us to do.

In order to break free from that trap, we need humility. But humility is very hard. Everything in us fights against it. We need to learn to see ourselves more as we actually are, and perceive God as he is. Khouria Frederica employs the parable of the prodigal son to illustrate this point. The younger son does not need to repent in order to gain forgiveness. The father had already forgiven him and was always waiting for him. “While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion” (Lk. 15:20).

God loves us like that; he isn’t waiting for us to coax him into forgiving us. But, like the son, we have to recognize the truth about our wounded condition. We must recognize that we need the father’s love. The darkened nous doesn’t readily grasp this. We see that something is wrong with the world, but don’t perceive that the wrongness is tangled up with, and enabled by, our own thoughts, words, and deeds. Realizing the truth about ourselves, our complicity in the world’s brokenness, is the first step of healing.

In Christian terms, we call that moment of awareness when we perceive our reality and recognize our need to reorient our lives repentance or metanoia. It’s not a one time thing, but a process we must continually pursue. The younger son had one such moment in the mud with the pigs. All such moments are not as dramatic, but it’s essential that we see God as loving and near or we will never have the strength to face and endure the truth about ourselves.

A God who is remote and scary and judgmental, taking offense at things that (we think) have nothing to do with him, is hard to love. The natural reaction is instead to deny the sins, or rationalize them away, or compare yourself to someone else whose behavior is worse. A barrier of mistrust lies between a person and this kind of God.

Unfortunately that’s the sort of God too often proclaimed in modern Christianity. The Jesus Prayer can help us see ourselves truly and perceive God as he is, a loving father who will not force us to return his love.

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