Friday, March 3, 2017

Repeating The Jesus Prayer Constantly: Fear No Evil

I never like when monks and spiritual teachers of some kind give warnings about mystical practices.  And it's something you hear across religious traditions, caveats about approaching sacred practices in a cavalier manner.  Sure, there are peak-experience junkies seeking highs in religious experience the same way addicts may cling to their drug of choice, but, by and large, it seems to be more of a problem that people don't do spiritual practices enough.  Church attendance goes down; disillusionment with organized religion goes up; and then I read some article by a  theologian saying "be careful" with the Jesus Prayer, don't say it any more than 15 minutes a day.  Mysticism as something exclusive for only an elite few is not a policy that has worked out very well.   As evidence, we can present world history, or, as Leonard Cohen writes:

"We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent
The widowhood of every government
Signs For All To See."

It seems imperative to share more contemplative practices from the world's religious traditions, including the ancient Christianity from the early church - the first one thousand years before denominations began to split off from one another.  In many ways, that is the theme of my blog and podcast - reviving the roots of our tradition - as it was the theme of Huston Smith's treatise, The Soul Of Christianity.   So if a price to pay for bringing mysticism into the public arena is that it becomes diluted in the process, so be it.  The world needs to discover and recover its peace of Mind.

So say the prayer in safety and rest assuredly in God.  "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." 

Say it over and over.  It works wonders. 

Evil, in biblical terms, is most often concerned with issues of lying and authenticity.  The devil is "the Father of lies," and one concern priests might have is that the Jesus prayer would lead a spiritual adventurer to sign up for more than they wanted.  Calling Jesus, "Lord," is a big step, especially if it's not something you really believe or want.     Do you want Jesus to be your personal Lord, not in some Sunday-school-version-of-being saved-in-order-to-join-a-social-group, but do you want Him fully integrated into your Heart of hearts, so that it is truly "Christ that lives in you?"   Some people may not be ready. I think that's the concern: taking this prayer on as a daily practice is a big commitment.  The old adage, "be careful what you wish for" comes to mind.    

There is also the progression of the prayer's process, and the higher stages on the sacred mountain climb may be met with stronger resistance from the devil.  The Desert Fathers speak of battling with the devil, as do many saints, such as Padre Pio, but this principle doesn't have to be understood in a overly-literal way.   Regardless of what the devil  may mean to you, it does seem to be a spiritual truth that the strongest temptations often come when we are closest to God.     Even Buddha, sitting under the Bo tree, got his strongest resistance from Mara right before he attained final enlightenment.     Or, in more contemporary vernacular, we might hear someone say, "the darkest hour is right before the dawn."  This just means that as you make progress in the prayer; resistances and entropy might try to pull you back down, tempt you to stop your practice, prevent you from achieving that closeness to Christ that you seek.   Whether it's demonic forces or just psychological passions, it can happen, and it's something to take seriously.  And that's when it's time to re-commit and dive into the practice even more. 

My new memoir is below.

 Clint Sabom is an award-winning writer and former aspirant monk. He works as a Spiritual Coach at Contemplative Light. His new book, Preparation For Great Light is available on Amazon. 

*To begin the article series on The Jesus Prayer, start at the beginning here