Sunday, April 26, 2009

Learning to Pray the Jesus Prayer—A lunch, a book, and a video.

I was having lunch with a friend recently when he said a book that helped him learn about prayer was The Art of Prayer published by Faber and Faber. A quick search on Amazon.com produced a list of similarly titled books including The Art of Prayer an orthodox anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo translated by E.Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer edited with an introduction by Timothy Ware (London, Faber and Faber, 1966). I purchased the book online and began reading.

The Introduction alone makes this a book worth studying carefully. The goal of the book is summed up in the first five lines of the Introduction: ‘What is prayer? What is its essence? How can we learn to pray? What does the spirit of the Christian experience as he prays in humility of heart?’ Such are the questions which this book sets out to answer.

As Timothy Ware explains this book was compiled by Igumen Chariton, a Russian Orthodox monk in the community of Valamo on an island in Lake Ladoga on the borders between Finland and Russia. After the death of his spiritual director (a staretz or elder), Chariton turned to books for guidance.

“It was his custom to copy down in a special notebook the passages which particularly impressed him, and so in the course of time he compiled an anthology on the art of prayer . . . in 1936 he decided to publish the material in his notebook. Deliberately self-effacing, he added no comments or connecting links of his own—‘not daring even to presume,’ as he puts it, that he had ‘achieved Inner Prayer’—but he left the authors to speak entirely for themselves” (page 10).

While most of the quotations are from Russian writers in the second half of the twentieth century, the collection goes back as far as the fourth century. “Taken as a whole, Father Chariton’s anthology sets before the reader the spiritual teaching of the Orthodox Church in its classic and traditional form” (page 10). The quotations focus on the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.”

After reading the introduction, and discovering a kindred spirit in Igumen Chariton, I decided to learn more about Timothy Ware. Thanks to Wikipedia, I soon followed a link to iTunes U, where Seattle Pacific University’s Annual Alfred S. Palmer Lectures in Wesleyan Studies are posted. Here, Timothy Ware now known as Bishop Kallistos is the featured speaker on four free video lectures that can be downloaded to your iPhone or iPod. His talk “What is Prayer” provides an especially helpful overview of the Jesus Prayer. You can find Bishop Kallistos’ talks here

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Practical Ways to Pray Every Day

As Frank Laubach observes, “when we experiment with prayer, we become scientists in the most important and least understood of all fields” (Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, Fleming H. Revell Company, Westwood, New Jersey, 1956, page 81). Here are some more of his recommendations adapted for 21st century readers:
• Throw a cloak of prayer over people
• Pray while you read or watch the news . . . pray for world leaders . . . “Lord, may this man or woman be hungry for You”
• Pray while listening to music . . . pray while performing music
• Pray for all whom we remember . . . every person who comes to memory
• Pray when awakening and when falling asleep. We can easily develop the habit, so that closing the eyes at night or opening them at dawn automatically reminds us to pray. ‘When I awaken I am still with Thee.’
• Precede, enfold, and follow all deeds with prayer. Prayer and action should be wedded. Just as a great surgeon does his best work when praying while he works, so all of us do our best work.
• It is not essential in praying to close or raise the eyes, to kneel or stand, to fold the hands or lower the head, nor to make the slightest change of position . . . Rev. Calixto Sanidad, a Filipino saint, wrote: “I used to farm with my hand on the plow, my eyes on the furrow, but my mind on God.” That was real. Prayer and work were wedded!
• Glenn Clark writes: “We discovered that to pray truly, to pray with the greatest abandon and with all of one’s being. It must be a technique that would include one’s body as well as one’s mind and one’s soul.”
• One of the best ways to pray is to take a vigorous walk, talking to God in rhythm with the steps. There is no more exhilarating way of taking exercise than a walking prayer.
• Practice makes perfect. From now on, you must NEVER fail to pray whenever you think of it, if only for a second. Habit building is a process of starting and sticking to it.
• Teach young people to make brief sentence prayers many times a day; teach them that prayer is the best way to meet every need and every task.
(Excerpts adapted from Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, pages 81-92.)