The Jesus Prayer: A Fitting Advent Discipline

Advent is about yearning. Not superficial yearning. Deep, edgy, risky yearning. An “out beyond,” cost what it will, lead where it may” kind of yearning. Indeed, a yearning that is unceasing.

The Jesus Prayer is the Advent prayer. It has all the qualities just articulated.

The Jesus Prayer is the unceasing prayer of the righteous person. It avails much (James 5.16). I hear in the word “much,” that James intending us to understand him to mean “everything.” For, indeed, as the elder told the pilgrim,

“…St. Paul clearly states that prayer should precede all actions. ‘First of all, there should be prayers offered’ (1 Tim. 2:1). The Apostle’s directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else. The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good. Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one’s way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ… The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Consequently, our only contribution toward perfection in prayer, the mother of all spiritual good, is regularity and constancy.” The Way of the Pilgrim (pg.8)

Prayer, in its most essential form, precedes and fills all the spiritual disciplines. Indeed, it fills (or will come to fill over time) to fullness all things in the life of the disciple of Christ Jesus.

Behold a mystery. The unceasing prayer – the groaning – is not something we can observe and analyze or judge. It is too deep for our words and explanations. What is required is to have the direction (maturing movement) of the groaning be toward Christ Jesus. For this we struggle. For this we yearn. For this, indeed, is the proleptic dynamic of the “upward call.”

Hear St. Augustine on this matter,

“I have roared with the groaning of my heart.” You observe the servants of God generally interceding with groaning; and the reason of it is asked, and there is nothing apparent, but the groaning of some servant of God, if indeed it does find its way at all to the ears of a person placed near him. For there is a secret groaning, which is not heard by man: yet if the thought of some strong desire has taken so strong hold of the heart, that the wound of the inner man finds expression in some uttered exclamation, the reason of it is asked; and a man says to himself, “Perhaps this is the cause of his groaning;” and, “Perhaps this or that hath befallen him.” Who can determine, but He in whose Eyes and Ears he groaned? Therefore he says, “I roared with the groaning of mine heart;” because if men ever hear a man’s groanings, they for the most part hear but the groaning of the flesh; they do not hear him who groans “with the groaning of his heart.” Some one hath carried off his goods; he “roareth,” but not “with the groaning of his heart:” another because he has buried his son, another his wife; another because his vineyard has been injured by a hailstorm; another because his cask has turned sour; another because some one hath stolen his beast; another because he has suffered some loss; another because he fears some man who is his enemy: all these “roar” with the “groaning of the flesh.” The servant of God, however, because he “roareth” from the recollection of the Sabbath, where the Kingdom of God is, which flesh and blood shall not possess, says, “I have roared with the groaning of my heart.”

And who observed and noticed the cause of his groaning? “All my desire is before Thee” (ver. 9). For it is not before men who cannot see the heart, but it is before Thee that all my desire is open! Let your desire be before Him; and “the Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee.” (Matt. vi. 6). For it is thy heart’s desire that is thy prayer; and if thy desire continues uninterrupted, thy prayer continueth also. For not without a meaning did the Apostle say, “Pray without ceasing.”  (1 Thess. v. 17). Are we to be “without ceasing” bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says, “Pray without ceasing”? Or if it is in this sense that we say that we “pray,” this, I believe, we cannot do “without ceasing.” There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart. Whatever else you are doing, if you do but long for that Sabbath, you do not cease to pray. If you would never cease to pray, never cease to long after it. The continuance of thy longing is the continuance of thy prayer. You will be ceasing to speak, if you cease to long for it.

Who are those who have ceased to speak? They of whom it is said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matt. xxiv. 12). The freezing of charity is the silence of the heart; the burning of charity is the cry of the heart. If love continues still you are still lifting up your voice; if you are always lifting up your voice, you are always longing after something; if always longing for something absent, you are calling “the Sabbath rest to remembrance.” And it is important you should understand too before whom the “roaring of thine heart” is open.

Now then consider what sort of desires those should be, that are before the eyes of God. Should it be the desire for the death of our enemy, a thing which men flatter themselves they lawfully wish for? For sometimes we pray for what we ought not. Let us consider what they flatter themselves [in thinking] they pray for lawfully! For they pray that some person may die, and his inheritance come to them. But let those too, who pray for the death of their enemies, hear the Lord saying, “Pray for your enemies.” (Matt. v. 44). Let them not pray for this, that their enemies may die; but rather pray for this, that they may be reclaimed; then will their enemies be dead; for from the time that they are reclaimed, henceforth they will be enemies no longer. “And all my desire is before Thee.” What if we suppose that our desire is before Him, and that yet that very “groaning” is not before Him? How can that be, since our desire itself finds its expression in “groaning”? Therefore follows, “And my groaning is not hid from Thee.”

From Thee indeed it is not hid; but from many men it is hid. The servant of God sometimes seems to be saying in humility, “And my groaning is not hid from Thee.” Sometimes also he seems to smile. Is then that longing dead in his heart? If however there is the desire within, there is the “groaning” also. It does not always find its way to the ears of man; but it never ceases to sound in the ears of God. Source

 

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