The Jesus Prayer: A Means to Encounter God

On retreat I found myself praying the Jesus Prayer as I crocheted a baby blanket. The words fell in sync with my stitches: “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We inherited this prayer from the desert fathers of the fourth or fifth century. People today still treasure it as a way to focus on Jesus and realize that he is alive and present. The words are Scripture based. They echo the repeated pleas of Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47) and the prayer of the publican in Jesus’s parable: “Have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

Repeating the Jesus Prayer follows St. Paul’s advice to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If we make a habit of praying it, soon this prayer is sounding in our hearts without our intending to pray it. You don’t have to crochet to pray it. You can pray it while walking or mopping a floor. Some people like to sit quietly and pray the first part of the Jesus Prayer as they inhale and the second part as they exhale. Someone suggested gradually reducing the prayer as you pray. Begin by repeating the entire prayer. Then repeat it leaving off “a sinner.” Then leave off “on me,” and so forth until you are repeating only “Jesus.” If you are alone, you might make up a melody for the Jesus Prayer and sing it!

The words of the Jesus Prayer are powerful. In the Bible we read that the name of Jesus is above every name. At this name every knee should bend (Philippians 2:9–10). Jesus told us that whatever we ask the Father for in his name we will receive. After pronouncing this name, we call on Jesus by his essential identity, the Son of God, thereby professing faith in his divinity. Then we ask for mercy, as so many hurting people did when Jesus walked the earth. We look to his mercy not only to forgive our sins but to heal us, to open our eyes and ears. At the end we humbly identify ourselves to the all-holy one as not-so-holy sinners.

What has been your experience with the Jesus Prayer?





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