© Wojciech Nowak SJ
“Eight Secrets” of the Jesus Prayer
1. When we start to pray, we are already at the destination
If I look for God, for God Himself, and not for using God, then by starting a prayer, I have already accomplished my goal. That means I am not waiting for anything because at the moment when I started the prayer, I have already had all.
It is because I am looking for God for the sake of God Himself, seeking a relation with Him, not profits coming out from the prayer.
“Profits” from the relation with God, if we may say so, are obvious, but the profits can’t be the target of the prayer, “usefulness” of the prayer can’t be the target.
A true love can only be selfless because that is how God loves.
Accepting the selfless attitude, we become like God, we let God change us to be alike Him.
A prayer is a process of transformation, a selfless gift of oneself.
Loving means devoting time and attention to another person.
There is no love without devoting time and attention.
Giving another person time and attention is giving him or her myself.
This way, if we love someone at this moment of time, we exist totally at that particular moment for that other person.
Let's remind three typical questions of our “ego”:
- will it be nice/pleasant or will I have any special feelings?
- what will I get from it?
- will it not cost me too much effort?
These questions also come to our mind during our prayer. Prayer strikes our imperious ego, it is going against the tide of our ego. That's why it can be difficult.
Only a selfless love is a true love. Selflessness is “the heart of the Gospel”.
2. Time of the prayer belongs to God, not to us
Before we start the prayer, it is very important to arouse in oneself an intent of offering time to God. It means that from that moment on – this time belongs entirely to God.
It is His property and He can do with it whatever He wants.
If we sincerely offer time to God, we should then not have any expectations or complaints about what happens with that time.
My feelings and what I think – my assessment of the value of the prayer, its sense – becomes secondary then.
Then I should only focus on keeping my attention on the Name of Jesus, and – “in spite of everything” – constantly return to the Name of Jesus.
Saying the Name specifies the direction, the content of what is going on, of what I am doing at that time.
If it is a gift of time for God, then the prayer is always successful.
3. We are to say the Name of Jesus once and only once
We always have one moment to live, and only this moment is real.
That’s why we summon all our strength to say the Name of Jesus, only this one time – with piety and awareness/attention, accepting and entrusting ourselves to this Name.
This is contrary to routine and mechanical repetition.
It means living through this moment with full conscience (“here and now”) one hundred percent.
We should be doing it as if we were to say this Name only this one time in life.
And, this way, we keep doing it moment after moment… Therefore, in this prayer we never become masters, rather – we are always beginners.
Time becomes relative in the prayer because it is always this particular time, because it is only this particular time we focus on. “Prayer is not in time but time in prayer” (Martin Buber).
Let us remind these key points:
- we always have one moment to live;
- nothing repeats in our life;
- the grace, which means acting of God in which He gives Himself (He is “The One who comes”) is connected with the moment when it happens;
- in each moment there is 100 % of us, 100 % of life and 100 % of God.
When a thought-a question comes to my mind - how long will "it"
last, how much time is left until the end of my prayer, the answer is
always one - I'm here only for one moment, for one breath, for one
taking of the Name of Jesus while breathing in and entrusting myself
to that Name while breathing out, that is, entrusting myself to Jesus
Himself. We always sit down to pray for one moment only.
4. A prayer is like loving, that is giving oneself to God as a gift
Let us repeat: “To love is to devote time and attention.” Our total sacrifice is expressed in the gift of time and attention. There is no love without sacrificing time and attention.
Our love is expressed – in constant returning to the Name of Jesus – in the gift of time and attention. Praying is the actual loving of God. It is loving of God with His own love, that is selfless and pure. It is learning how to love God, that is giving ourselves to Him as a gift. It is letting God change us, so we are like Him, who is Love, Love that gives itself to others as a gift. The Jesus Prayer teaches us how we should act when we love God and other people. A criterion for a successful prayer is not feelings, pleasant emotions, or being focused but learning how to offer oneself to God (also to another person – God existing in another person) as a gift.
5. “Remaining” in the process, in spite of everything, is what counts, not a lack of distractions
In a constant returning to the Name of Jesus, in spite of distractions, our true “self” is revealed, our repeated choosing of God, our “Yes” to God with each subsequent breath.
A criterion of a “successful” prayer – if we can look at it that way – is not a lack of distractions but our returning to the Name, our continuing/staying with the Name in spite of the distractions. This “in spite of” is most crucial.
We aren’t able to turn our psyche off, like we turn the tap off. We always pray as we can and not as we can’t (Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can't - John Chapman).
Constant/repeated coming back to the Name, expresses our true “self” - what I want and what I choose.
Each time we return to the prayer, we repeat our choosing of Jesus.
The more difficult these returns are, the more authentic our prayer is.
Love is not emotions and expressions but the resolution of your will, it is “action & truth” (see: 1 Joh 3, 18).
When you lose the Name of Jesus in your conscience and your thoughts carry you away like a strong current, don’tt get upset when you realize it, but calmly return to the Name. The time that have passed will not come back, this is the past. Getting upset/irritated at yourself is like focusing on the past, and God comes to us every moment, in every breath and I can open myself to Him again, I can accept/invite Him again. Paul, the Apostle says: “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14 NIB).
Evangelical attitude of vigil and awareness are not just “doing nothing”. Vigilance means waiting for the coming of the Lord. God is "the SomeOne who is to comes.” “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev 1:8 NIV).. See also Rev 4:8.
When does He come to us? In every moment of our lives. In every breath, in every heartbeat, in nature, in another person, in every situation, in every part of reality. Therefore, the prayer is being on the watch.
Mark 13:35-37: Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back - whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’.
Luke 21:34-36: Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. (Exhortation to Wach)
Matthew 25:13: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids)
This is the time when you do not act. It is God who acts. You leave Him the initiative.
Your activity is only to put an effort to open yourself to God and to be attentive.
6. “The road is not difficult but the difficulties are the road” (Søren Aabye Kierkegaard)
By implication: overcoming difficulties through the power of God. It is about developing our love, about exceeding ourselves. It is about our training in perseverance and our staying with God and (more and more) in God. See: Rom 5:1-3 and 12:11-12.
7. The road reveals itself as we gradually walk along it
You stop walking – the horizons shrink in, the road ends. You have to be constantly on the move. It's like walking on a carpet while unfolding it. Each step is at the same time revealing (developing) of the road. This prayer justifies itself. If you are persistent in it, it will reveal its meaning to you. You will know/experience its effectiveness and fruits yourself.
8. The Jesus Prayer is a road which doesn’t end in this life
We don’t reach destination here on earth, so praying this way we never retire.
The road continues all our life.
This prayer goes beyond our earthly life, and goes into the eternity.
We cross the threshold of eternity with the breathing out, entrusting ourselves to the Name of Jesus, entrusting ourselves to the Mystery which hides behind/beyond our existence.
Time of the prayer, time of the retreat, these are parts of our life’s highway.
This is the most intensified time in our life. Prayer is a catalyst in the life process.
In a short time we cover a long distance, in the sense of improvement of our life’s quality, and then we return to a local road and live our life in every day’s rhythm.
Our life and spiritual life (path of prayer) aren’t two separate currents that only sometimes meet. There is only one current: it is our life which is the way to discover God and to unite with Him.