September 23, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Ancient prayer finds place in modern lives

One day years ago, a good friend stopped by to share details of a traumatic time she had experienced in another state and then again upon her return to Indiana. Despite her normally deep faith, she said her faith was sorely tested. One night, she repeatedly prayed, “Jesus, I do believe. Help my unbelief”—and her inner conflict disappeared.

This was the first time I had heard a “Jesus prayer.” Since then, I’ve learned various versions and in times of spiritual darkness find myself praying those same words or “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief” or similar words.

None of us is immune to acting or thinking like a “doubting Thomas,” who was an Apostle of Jesus. Thomas questioned Christ’s resurrection from the dead, but then received proof. This is found in John 20: 24-30 of the New Testament.

Some of us know that the “Jesus, I do believe. Help my unbelief” prayer comes directly from the Gospels, too:  Mark 9: 14-29. This passage tells how a man in a crowd took his demon-possessed son to the Apostles for healing, but they could not cast out the harmful spirit. The father describes to Jesus how his son ­suffers, and Jesus says, “All things are possible to him who believes.” The man immediately cries out, “I believe. Help my unbelief,” and his son was healed.

Only recently, I learned about another Jesus prayer that Easter Orthodox Christians pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Julie McCarty—a columnist and an associate member of the Catholic Press Association (as am I)—taught me this via her column “The Prayerful Heart,” which appears in The Catholic Spirit, serving St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. Julie explained how “the Orthodox Christian repeats this Jesus Prayer in a slow, meditative, reverent fashion in an effort to focus his or her mind on the presence of God … This can be done during regular prayer time or while doing ordinary daily tasks.”

This Jesus prayer practice, evolving during early Christianity, fulfills the command to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Julie writes, “Modern Orthodox Christians often do this with a ‘prayer rope’ … a circlet of woven knots often made of wool … much like rosary beads. …”

To learn more about the Jesus prayer, readers can find Julie McCarty’s column (and others) at archives.php?article=2208. There, Julie lists resources for the information she gives. I am grateful she allows me to share her excellent work with my readers.

One more thing: Julie points out that nine years ago, Pope John Paul II called the Jesus prayer “a great treasure” and said when it is practiced regularly “this rich invocation becomes … the soul’s very breath,” increasing awareness of Christ’s loving presence.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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