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 next answers some basic questions about the mechanics of praying the Jesus Prayer. And one of those questions deals with how long to pray. Obviously the goal is to move toward learning to pray constantly, but the only way to begin moving in that direction is to have a specific rule that we can develop as a habit. Clocks and wristwatches (and cell phones!) have only become common fairly recently, so the traditional approach has been to measure the practice of the Jesus Prayer by its number of repetitions, typically in groups of one hundred. Beyond that, advice and practices have a wide range.
Personally, I’ve tried to incorporate fifty to a hundred repetitions of the Jesus Prayer in my morning prayer rule. Lately, my ability to consistently keep a regular prayer rule of any sort seems even poorer and more sporadic than it has often been. For me, the practice of stopping periodically throughout the day and praying ten to twenty Jesus Prayers has always been more important than a single lengthy period. I constantly need to redirect my will and attention. Some days, especially when I am under particular sorts of stress, I find the Jesus Prayer welling up into my conscious mind. I pause and pray and it generally alters the course of my thinking and behavior.
Khouria Frederica also mentions a prayer rope, an ancient traditional means for counting repetitions. I don’t have one personally, but have considered obtaining one. I have prayed the rosary and understand the benefits and order a tactile anchor can bring to prayer. She does mention that proper prayer ropes are fashioned while the one making them constantly prays the Jesus Prayer. And if their attention strays, they undo the knots and start over. I find it a beautiful thought that I might use an item over which so much prayer has been poured in my own prayers.
Finally, Khouria Frederica advises we have a particular place set aside for prayer. In Orthodox practice, that place is often one’s icon corner as icons also are an integral part of Orthodox prayer. I do agree that place is important and, as with any rule, consistency matters.
The book offers some solid, concrete guidance in these sections and clearly tries not to assume that the reader already knows and understands the objects and practices mentioned. I think that’s one of the things that makes this such a useful and practical book. All the theory in the world concerning prayer doesn’t mean a thing unless we actually pray.