03 June 2009

Jesus Prayer & Spirituality

I have been using the Jesus Prayer since reading Anthony M. Coniaris' Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia.

What is it?
Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner

Coniaris points out that the prayer was developed by monks long ago. It is the key to opening a deeper life of the Spirit. The book remarks how all-encompassing the prayer is...how simple...how concise and accurate.

Why use it?
Well, reading the book will answer it ten times better than I can. Let me just share a story. I have personal reason to read and apply that book to my life. My thoughts can master me...they can lead me to believe false things...they can verge on surreal expectations...they wander and ask me to follow. The book and the Prayer help me to snap back into the hear-&-now. I don't think I'm alone in that battle either...perhaps in a small company of those that admit it openly. I used to think that I simply had wonder-lust. I could spend hours thinking about what life would be like if I had billions of dollars. What would I do with that money? What would life look like? Oprah would be proud of my visionary wanderings. Sadly, vagrant thoughts can take you other places--vulgar places. The problem with these thoughts is how you naturally begin to make decisions to allow those dreams to become reality. Romantically I thought that I had a clever device to stamp out any chance of online wonder-lust. I made my wife's full name my password to the computer. Surely if I had to type her name I could not be tempted to venture places she would disapprove of. [crickets chirping...long silence] WRONG. However there is power at the Name of Jesus. We express this when we reverence His Name during the Divine Liturgy. Coniaris comments, "when sinful thoughts knock...let Jesus get the door!" So I have a new password to all accounts--but don't try to hack me, I'm too clever for that! (wink)
William of Saint Thierry would consider this the very first level of spiritual maturity. First one must master their passions...master their thoughts. William had a three-tiered approach to Chrisitian proficiency. 1-control your physical passions. 2-wash your thoughts in the scripture. 3-unify your heart and mind. William was the Abbot [or master] of an Abbey [monastery] in Saint Thierry and best known for his advice to young monks. He is also classic reading for Western Spirituality mainly because he relied upon the ancient Fathers of the Church so much. That reliance makes him far for Eastern Orthodox in his approach.

What is a spiritual man?
Having read Coniaris' book I realize the true meaning of Proverbs 4:23. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life, KJV. The NIV translation is perhaps misleading here, Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. I once thought that this meant to build a fence around your heart and protect it from any outside forces. Think Buckingham Palace guards! The NIV word 'guard' led me to that conclusion. Now I think the picture should involve me turning around to face the heart; keeping an eye on it constantly. Since I am supposed to be mortifying any vestige of the Old Man I must watch my heart as if it were an unfamiliar & sleezy old man at the neighborhood playground. Keep from the KJV should remind us to keep and eye on it. Now the mental image is an armed soldier training his weapon on a captured spy/terrorist.
I got my eye on you, buddy!
A spiritual man is someone that treats his inner life like he wants to treat others--under intense scrutiny and without any mercy! He is also a man that treats others the way he is inclined to treat himself--with pity, understanding, and mercy [since we know that everyone carries this burden of being a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve].

I love this Star Wars quote from Obi Wan Kenobi to his padawan Anakin Skywalker, "Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin, they betray you."

How true.

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