Finding Our Way Again—Prayer.2

by admin on February 25, 2010

Reflection for Sunday, 21 February 2010

Last Sunday we spent time teaching about prayer and the Jesus Prayer specifically. [Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.] We talked about the importance of breathing in a mindful way, of repeating the words continuously, and for those of us who are easily distracted, using prayer beads (chotki in Russian), like the rosary or “worry beads” in the Buddhist tradition. Many religious traditions use these as a help in constant prayer. So this evening let’s begin with a “report from the front.” How did last week go for you?

Were you a good memory in anyone’s life last week? How did you have your heart open to the voice of God? What blessings did you discover? What kind of experience with forgiveness did you have? These are the kind of questions to consider, not so much the questions that concentrate on whether or not you had a good or bad week. These are questions, remember, we use in our Compline Liturgy.

The Jesus Prayer: Saturated with God
As a way to begin tonight I would like to speak just a bit more about the Jesus Prayer and the wonderful treasure it is and can bring to us. That treasure is saturation in the love of God. Frederica Mathewes-Green has recently written the best book out there on this prayer, entitled, The Jesus Prayer. She writes: “This is the ancient desert prayer that tunes the heart to God.” I like that image; like tuning your radio to your favorite frequency. What does it look like to tune your heart to God’s frequency?

For many of us that picture is like the two old spinsters on the cover the paperback, Scandinavian Humor and Other Myths. You can tell they are Lutherans…just one look at those lemon sucking faces. Tuning the heart to God is about overwhelming grace and love saturating us.

The Jesus Prayer is meant to be constant prayer; daily prayer. In fact daily prayer is our continual tuning the heart to God’s frequency. St. John Cassian advises that the best way to do that is to simply cry in the opening words of Psalm 70—O God, come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me.

When I was at Mt. Saviour’s Monastery* this summer for several weeks this is exactly the very words used to begin every hour of prayer—seven times a day in the monastery church. St. Benedict instructed those in his monastic movement to do this….and these guys have been doing it ever since.

The reason daily prayer ought to begin this way, along with the Jesus Prayer, is that it underscores the deep theology of prayer and true doctrine of God. We owe a debt to the Eastern Orthodox tradition which has kept this front and center: that being the stress on God’s willingness to forgive.

The Jesus Prayer trains us to adopt a stance of asking for mercy. It teaches us how to lean into the joy, trust and gratitude that is the presence of God. I say these words because so often there is little drawing out the implications of God’s presence other then some morality of “don’t drink or chew or go with folks that do.” Joy, trust, gratitude. Remember, we want to be a community that practices the presence of God and that truly means joy in life. What greater joy could there possible be that becoming one with Jesus Christ? Again, we meet our Orthodox friend theosis, that saturation with the life and love of Jesus. He actually lives in us who trust him to do just that.

Two Bible verses worth looking at tonight and even tucking them away in your hearts:

Philippians 1:21—For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Real living in St. Paul’s mind is to be filled to overflowing with the awesome life of Jesus.

Galatians 2:20—I’ve identified myself completely with Christ. Indeed I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central…I’m no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (The Message translation).

Discovering the Purpose of Your One and Only Life
That’s pretty clear about how our life looks in the grace and mercy of God. Which leads me to this questionWhat is the purpose of this earthly life? What is the fundamental purpose of your life? Think about it. The purpose of life is to be saturated with the life and love of God. So what?? So that we will be filled with Christ’s life to accomplish his work in the world.

I didn’t say to be happy, to be rich, to be famous, and to be all those clever things to which we are so easily attached. It’s to accomplish his work in the world. Once again, we hear the theme of Jesus’ Kingdom of God project: heal the sick, speak good news, raise the dead, and announce through our lives that Jesus is on the loose. (I love that phrase.)

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes: “This indwelling presence heals, restores and completes us, preparing each of us to take up the role in [God’s] kingdom that we alone can fill.” Talk about uniqueness….there it is. Theosis (Christ in us) enables each person to be more herself than she was ever able to be before.

All along we’ve been trying diets, plastic surgery, makeup, new clothes, therapy; we’ve tried everything to get at the person we were meant to be. Here at last is the only answer worth pursuing—Jesus Christ, not just an object of belief, but our “Sherpa” into a new way of living.

Think of the implication. Now all our daily encounters with the world—everything and everyone—is transformed. Again, remember the three-fold path of spiritual formation: katharsis, fotosis, theosis. As the light of Jesus burns brighter in our eyes we begin to see life differently—we get it!!!! This path is in constant motion, one leads to the other and back again. Katharsis is removing the blinders from our eyes. Fotosis is seeing the light. Theosis is being the light.

I want to bring back to mind again that little insight of Peter Senge: A way of life versus a body of beliefs. (Zen Buddhism in relationship to what we have come to call “Christianity.”) What we all really need is a way of life. Here in our little community we not only want to teach a way of life through do-able practices; we also want to put it on the road…to live it out. Daily prayer is part of the way.

Philippians 4:4-7—Prayer is anxiety mitigation
Let’s briefly return for a few minutes to our thinking about prayer and anxiety. We will spend the rest of tonight’s time reflecting on Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the LordHere is the only proper context for prayer: joy. Philippians is the letter of joy. It was deeply loved by Martin Luther whose heart was touched by this movement of the overwhelming love of God. (Would that we would be Luther Lutherans instead of institutionalized ones.)

Let all know your forbearancethis is living in another structure of being. It’s exactly what the three-fold path of spiritual formation is about.

The Lord is at handJesus is constantly a vital presence……on the loose!

OK, here are some important “take-homes” in this.

    1. This whole letter and particularly these few verses were written to a community. It is within the Body of Christ—his church, his faith community, the people who are trusting him to flood their lives with the love of God—that the reality of this new being is learned, maintained and nurtured. Community therefore is the primary and essential means by which individual believers are nurtured to understand and live as citizens of God’s New Jerusalem.

    2. Don’t be anxious. We’ve talked a lot about this because this is the energy of life. We all got it, in different measures at different times. Anxiety is our default mode that attempts to control our surroundings, our relationships, and our future. Quite naturally the world resists any attempt on our part not to play our part. That is, the more we work towards differentiation of self (allowing Jesus on the loose in us) the more resistance we will encounter. The Jesus life is just plain counter-intuitive.

    Don’t be anxious about anything, but instead pray about everything. Notice that play—anything becomes specifically everything. “But instead” is the invitation to think/act counter-intuitively. Everything, of course, is our entire life context. Nothing is outside the realm of God’s ability.

    Prayer, then, is the active exercise of this established relationship we have with God our Father. When Paul uses “supplication” he is underlining the awareness of our inability to meet the events and relationships of our lives on our own strength and resources. Life is much too complicated and complex for us to try it alone.

    “Thanksgiving” is the posture of being yielded and responsive to God’s presence and purpose in every event and relationship.

    3. Out of this comes “Shalom”—that peace that passes all understanding. This isn’t escape but engagement through wholeness and fulfillment. Again, theosis.

Next week we will discuss the importance of Daily Prayer, praying at regular intervals throughout the day. It’s allowing God to interrupt our pre-planned day, our heavy schedules. I will try to bring together some thoughts, using Mr. Everest as the springboard. Intriguing? See you next Sunday.

*Mount Saviour Monastery is located in Elmira, New York. www.msaviour.org

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