Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 2:19-21
Every active United Methodist clergy person in the East Central District of our Annual Conference (and some other districts, too) participates in a Clergy Peer Group. These groups meet monthly September through April. We meet for the purposes of walking alongside one another in our ministry offering support, guidance and companionship. We also study a book each semester. This semester we are reading Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster. This text explores the “spiritual movements of prayer” and “helps [readers] understand, experience, and practice the many forms of prayer.”*
One of the chapters I read recently describes Unceasing Prayer. Foster quotes Kallistos, a Byzantine spiritual writer, when defining this sort of prayer: “Unceasing prayer consists in an unceasing invocation of the name of God.”** Foster then quotes St. Francis saying, “[Unceasing prayer] seemed not so much a [human] praying as prayer itself made [human].”**
The Apostle Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing,” but how exactly is that done? It is accomplished with mindfulness and with practice. Foster observes that Christians over the centuries desiring to live into this direction from Paul have settled on what is called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. Writes Foster, “The idea [of breath prayer] has its roots in the Psalms, where a repeated phrase reminds us of an entire Psalm, for example, O Lord, you have searched me and known me (Ps 139:1). As a result, the concept arose of a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath.”***
The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is a prayer that can be inhaled and exhaled on a single breath. It is a prayer that can be repeated again and again in its entirety or in pieces. I like to pray the prayer in its entirety and then continue the prayer by removing phrases one at a time:
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
Jesus Christ, Son of God.
I find that when I engage prayers like this one I become calmer and I become more attentive, not to my surroundings, but to God. I am focused. I am primed to receive.
This week our #PictureLent theme is Replace. As we journey deeper into the season of Lent we become more aware of what awaits us and awaits our Christ. We know that Good Friday is coming…but even more importantly, Easter is coming. On the cross Jesus replaced humanity; he took our place. He took our punishment for sin. He took our shame. He took our death and defeated it.
Mindful of what is still to come in the Lenten season – not only spiritually in my walk with Christ, but also schedually (yes, schedually) in the life of the church – I am in need of more moments of quiet and centering and reflection. I often spend my devotional time listening to music and this past week I was introduced to “Here’s My Heart” by I Am They. This song is a breath prayer repeating again and again “Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.” This song petitions God to speak into our inner most beings the heavenly truth that can and will replace the lies, fears, and doubts that have come to dwell within us.
I am guilty – at times – when praying the Jesus Prayer of focusing on the word sinner. I believe – I am convicted – that we need to recognize and take responsibility for our sins. But we are not the sins. We are ones who receive the truth of mercy. God’s mercy reminds us of our sacred worth. God’s mercy reminds us that we are made in God’s image. God’s mercy nurtures us daily in activities and decisions that lead us in recovering the image in which we are made. God’s mercy plants the seeds that move from our head to our heart. God’s mercy breeds assurance, which opens us further.
Which leads me again in my offering: Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.
Speak what is true.
Prayer: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul.”**** Amen.
* from the Prayer dustcover
** Prayer 119.
*** Prayer 122.
**** “What Wondrous Love Is This,” The United Methodist Church 292.