Wojciech Nowak SJ
Why the Jesus Prayer – or more generally: a non-discursive form of meditation (the prayer of simplicity, the prayer of the heart)?
Spiritual life cultivated in a living relationship with God leads to simplicity. It is a natural process – from multitude to simplicity. Each personal relation aims at simplicity. When a young girl and a young boy start their relationship they have so much to say to each other: their life story, their experiences, feelings, the way they look at the world and life, their interests and fascinations, things that are important for them, their needs, their future plans and ambitions. In time, when the relationships turns into marriage, fewer words are spoken. Here I speak about a friendship and a living marriage relationship, which is the one that constantly develops. Simple being with each other, trust, simple gestures which express everything become important. The more the relationship develops, the better persons understand each other, although they will always remain a secret for each other, discovered day after day. They look in the same direction and intuitively understand their needs. There is no need for many words to express oneself. We might say that the relation itself, being with the other person, is what matters.
I remember moments I spent with my mother at the end of her life. She couldn't speak then and she would only answer simple questions with single words. She was immersed in her world, looking into the distance as if she could see what we didn’t. However, she was aware of being "here and now", of being alone in a room or accompanied by someone. She could recognize me. I loved the moments we spent together in silence looking through a window. We didn’t need words. What counted was a simple being with each other, the relation at the level of the heart. I knew and I felt who she was for me, how much she meant to me and she enjoyed my presence. I was absorbing those moments spent with my mother. I drew spiritual energy from them. I knew that being with my mother without words was changing me.
I have experienced the same in my relationship with God. In the beginning of my conscious spiritual life, I felt a strong need to seek answers to existential questions that were bothering me. I was like a starving man throwing himself at food that eventually became available. I also wanted to get to know God - who is He?, what is He like? I wanted a personal meeting with Him in the context of the uniqueness of myself. I needed to apply the Gospel to my life story in order to fill fulfilled in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I discovered relatively quickly that God, although close to us - closer to us than we are to themselves - still remains a Mystery. He cannot be enclosed in words and images, He goes beyond the process of thinking about Him. All this, however, is necessary to reach "the edge of infinity," "to stand on the threshold of the Mystery", to finally recognize one's awkwardness and powerlessness in trying to reach God. In my relationship with Him, I discovered a space on the threshold of which words and thinking should be left - or, in other words: only One WORD should be kept - and the heart should be let to speak. "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (…) Deep calls to deep" (Ps 42:8).
Like Moses, you have to take off your sandals and try to stand barefoot on a "holy land" that we will never be able to appropriate. One must have the courage to reveal the nakedness of one's self and let oneself be touched by Him who is the only one who can understand us completely and heal us. We need reconciliation not only with Him but also with ourselves and life. God is the one who "justifies" our existence.
That's how I discovered the prayer of the heart, the prayer of simplicity and at the same time the Christian mystical tradition. The Jesus Prayer is not only a way of prayer, that is contact with God, but also a way of experiencing life and perceiving reality.
This prayer initiates an internal process during which we allow God to guide us in a path that is known only to Him and which we are slowly discovering. It is a path that is revealing itself as one walks in it. When you stop walking, the road ends, the horizons shrink, and you are confused. That's why you still have to be "on the move". You become and learn to be a wanderer. Jesus said that a Christian is like "the wind - you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going" (Jn 3:8). That is why the Jesus Prayer is called a constant prayer.
The path that it initiates begins in this life but it does not end in this life. The process that you have allowed God to start will lead you through the gate of eternity to the other side of life. And one more thing: to move forward in this path, you may never feel like an expert, a master - you must agree to remain all the time just a beginner.
My name is Wojciech Nowak. I am a priest, a monk – a Jesuit. I am in charge of a Jesuit Retreat House in Kalisz (Western Poland). I run meditation sessions, retreats and workshops, also in prisons. My specialization, apart from the Ignatian Spirituality, is the Jesus Prayer, the prayer of the heart. I regard the Jesus Prayer and sharing it with others as one of the greatest four graces in my life. Three others include: the grace of life, the grace of faith and the grace of calling to become a monk and a priest.