This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.
Khouria Frederica begins the large question and answer section of her book with questions on how to get started with the practice of the Jesus Prayer. The first question deals with preparations. You have to at least want to cut out major, ongoing sin in your life. Look for a spiritual father or mother. Be part of a worshiping community and receive the sacraments regularly. Pray, fast, and give alms. Avoid excessive sleeping and eating. Expect that you will suffer injustice and sorrow. Strive for humility and be wary of pride. Pride is sneaky. I do like the way she identifies anger as an identifier for pride.
One clue to pride is anger; often, when we get angry, it is because pride has been dealt a wound. Avoid anger at all costs. The Desert Fathers warn more frequently against anger than against sexual sins, because anger poisons the soul. As the saying goes, “Anger is an acid that destroys its container.”
The ultimate goal of the Jesus Prayer is unceasing prayer. While that’s a lofty goal, keep it in mind. We can’t start doing something all the time, so start by doing it some of the time. Set a time or times each day to pray the Jesus Prayer and then stick with them whether you feel like it or not. A number of brief prayer times during the day are often more effective than one big prayer time. Be as sincere as you are able when you pray. The Jesus Prayer is a discipline because it often requires effort. But it’s a discipline that has stood the test of time. It has proven itself for more than fifteen hundred years.
The things we lay down firmly in our memories matter. They endure. If you take the words of the Jesus Prayer and “write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov. 3:3), on the day when you are far away on the gray sea of Alzheimer’s, the Prayer will still be there, keeping your hand clasped in the hand of the Lord.