Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What is Required?

This morning as I was eating breakfast and preparing for the day ahead of me, I did a bit of spiritual reading. The one book that I keep returning to over and over again is The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. I've read through the book completely twice, and I'm constantly going back to it just to flip it open and read an inspiring passage from the writings of one of the great Eastern Christian mystics.

Today the I opened up the book to the following passage from St. Theophan the Recluse:

"You regret that the Jesus Prayer is not unceasing, that you do not recite it constantly. But constant repetition is not require. What is required is a constant aliveness to God - an aliveness present when you talk, read, watch, or examine something. But since you are already practicing the Jesus Prayer in the correct manner, continue as you are doing now, and in due course the prayer will widen its scope."

This is the entire teaching of the Jesus Prayer in a nutshell. The goal of the prayer is not constant repetition, but a continual awareness of the presence of God, and an aliveness to that presence. The Jesus prayer - or any other prayer for that matter - is an aid to facilitate that awareness. It is a most powerful aid because of the invocation of the name of Jesus, but it remains itself an aid. Ultimately the goal of praying the Jesus Prayer is that the repetition stop and all that remains is a constant and alive awareness to God's presence. Spouses aren't always speaking verbally to one another when they are in each other's presence, but they do always maintain a loving awareness of the other's presence, and if one spouse is absent then the absence is noticed and felt by the other. That's the alive awareness that St. Theophan is getting at here.

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