With every breath
“Pray without ceasing” is something I have heard many times, but am only just beginning to comprehend how this could pertain to my own life. I thought Perpetual Prayer was completely unattainable; something I could only achieve if I remained in complete silence. I would often wonder about how our world is very loud and distracting, so, how can anyone other than priests and cloistered nuns be called to this type of prayer? How can we truly pray without ceasing?
The Jesus Prayer, or “Prayer of the Heart” is a way to speak to God through repeated incantations, and as I learned to recite this prayer, it changed my life. Now a frequent practitioner, I unite all moments of my day with God and adjust my focus on Him. The Jesus Prayer is called the prayer of the heart because it is meant to go in accordance with the rhythm of your breathing pattern and heartbeat. Without changing your state of breathing on your inhale, you pray, “O Jesus Christ, Son of God”. Then on the exhale, “Have mercy on me, a sinner”. With these words on each breath, you call out to Jesus’ name physically and mentally. You acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and your own wretchedness in a single breath. The Jesus Prayer is made up of three Bible verses, which call Jesus to be with us in stillness. The more this prayer is said, the more visceral it feels. The words are moving through your mind at the same time as you are breathing, which binds the two together. Therefore, you are entering into perpetual prayer once the prayer and breathing are merged.
When I first began spiritual direction, I was given the book, The Way of a Pilgrim, a book from the 19th Century about an unnamed Russian pilgrim who journeyed through Siberia while reciting the Prayer of the Heart. The pilgrim began counting the number of recitations and eventually reached the point of aligning his prayer with his breathing and heartbeat. Therefore, he was reciting this prayer over 10,000 times in a day. His relationship with God became first in his mind. This book inspired me to begin to say the prayer as much as I remembered throughout my day. I wasn’t thinking about the number of repetitions, but was simply just calling out to Jesus. The first day, I probably said the prayer 50 times through the day in small moments. As a few weeks passed however, I found I was welcoming Jesus into my thoughts and actions much more frequently. We meet God in small moments in our lives and that is where the relationship with Him begins to deepen. It is like the saying my adage-loving father has always said, “If you can trust a man with a dollar, you can trust him with a million.” A great way to start praying the Prayer of the Heart is by calling out to Jesus in trivial moments throughout the day, and before you know it, you are praying without ceasing.
The Jesus Prayer is commonly prayed with prayer beads known as the chotki, which is made up of 100 to 500 beads. The Jesus Prayer is a practice of many Eastern Catholic and Orthodox rites and is growing in number. This prayer is such a gift. I continue to hear about it and receive chotkis during tough times as a call to unite myself more fully to God. Matt Fradd, a popular Catholic author and host of the podcast “Pints with Aquinas”, frequently speaks about the wonders of the Jesus Prayer. He said shortly after beginning to make it a part of his everyday life, he would wake up saying the Jesus Prayer. A similar experience happened to his wife when she awoke from surgery uttering the Jesus Prayer and recognized that she was most likely in prayer during her surgery. Personally, the Prayer of the Heart has brought me closer to God. I walk through life with Him more fully present than ever before. I pray that the Jesus Prayer continues to spread and utterly transform our relationship and trust in God – with each and every breath.
AUTHOR: Teresa Thekaekara, Kindergarten Assistant Teacher