I have mentioned in a previous post that "I am extremely grateful for the freedom I have to be creative and incorporate ancient worship practices in our church, but I am equally grateful for the reins of a healthy team." Well, a couple nights ago, during our P.S. Epiphany gathering, I took a few moments to lead our church in the Jesus Prayer. I got the idea from Bob Webber in his book Ancient-Future Time. My intention was to give struggling worshipers a simple way to connect more deeply with God in prayer, something they could bring with them everywhere they go in their everyday lives. So, after a few songs, prayers, and Scripture readings, I read the excerpt from Bob's book, explaining the origin of the Jesus Prayer (Luke 18:13) and the significance of short form prayer, which, according to Webber, the Church Fathers advocated as the form of prayer to establish union with God (p. 90). I quoted the list of rules for beginners to the Jesus Prayer (p. 91), and assured everyone that this isn't a New Age exercise. Then we prayed it through about ten times, slowly and quietly:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
Etc.

I have been here at River Valley Church for two years and a few months now. It would be an understatement to say that I have stretched our church family in our worship practices. So I wasn't surprised to receive the kind of feedback I did yesterday and today. I heard from one excited person that the prayer lesson was exactly what they needed to jump-start their waning spiritual life. Another person said they had an epiphanic experience in the moment of praying the prayer together. I myself have been lulled to sleep by the prayer the past two nights, awaking with Jesus on my lips. And then there were those who were perhaps a bit too stretched to participate in the prayer without reluctance. I am thankful for their honest feedback, and in retrospect I could have taken a smaller step in introducing this type of spiritual exercise, especially to a group so diverse in age and denominational background. My hope is that they will not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and instead embrace, or at least appreciate, biblical and spiritually edifying, ancient traditions of Christian worship and spirituality, such as the Jesus Prayer.

We need not dwell upon misuses of the Jesus Prayer, except to realize that all exaggerations are harmful and that we should at all times use self-restraint. "Practice of the Jesus Prayer is the traditional fulfillment of the injunction of the Apostle Paul to 'pray always:' it has nothing to do with the mysticism which is the heritage of pagan ancestry."

I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about the Jesus Prayer to read this beautiful article, from which the above excerpt comes, by Princess Ileana of Romania. She was an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a deep, deep spirituality and love for Jesus. As an Eastern Mystic, there are a few things she says that push the limits of my comfort, but then she might be discomforted by the Western Rationalism she would find in this blog. Both of us love Jesus, though, and the Jesus Prayer.

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