This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.
Though we don’t often think of it in those terms, it’s not really that hard for us to grasp the idea of our normally buzzing awareness becoming focused in different parts of our being. Khouria Frederica has some good illustrations. Hit your thumb with a hammer and all your awareness leaps immediately to your thumb. Think hard about complex problem you are trying to solve and you can feel the pressure build in your forehead and behind your eyes. Go see an engaging and thought-provoking play or movie with friends and as the words flow in your discussion afterwards, you can feel your awareness coalescing around your mouth and larynx.
The Jesus Prayer, when it becomes prayer of the heart acts to unite all the elements of our being in complete cohesion. Our intelligence sees and discerns without having to exert effort to maintain attention. Khouria Frederica includes a quote from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.
Far from clouding and obscuring thought as the emotions do, [this level of prayer] clears it completely. Intelligence remains fully, intensely conscious and free.
And then some of her own thoughts.
This would not be a state of “rapture” or “ecstasy,” which in the East is regarded as the experience “not of the perfect, but of novices,” according to St. Simeon the New Theologian (AD 949-1022). Spiritual ecstasy discloses limitation: the person is unable to live in the fullness of God “without losing contact with his own fragmentary individual life,” says Metropolitan Anthony. The ideal is a “perfect union, permanent and unalterable, in which the whole of man is integrated — spirit, soul, and body — without shocks or breaches of equilibrium, in the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We shouldn’t seek to lose ourselves in God as many today seem to do. God seeks a union of love with us, not a destruction of our individual unique being. The goal is to be our full, integrated selves in complete union with Christ.