“Without ceasing,” Really?


Somebody asked me about the Jesus Prayer:

<<What does it mean to ‘pray without ceasing’? Do you actually say the Jesus Prayer everywhere? On the beach, in a restaurant, when you’re with other people? Really, all the time?>>

That’s a great question. Here’s how I replied.

<<How it works is, you spend some time each day doing nothing but saying the Jesus prayer–for starters, maybe 10 minutes. You start from there. Keep adding prayer at different times of day. One “big” practice (increasing the amount) and several short practices. These sessions should be not just the Jesus Prayer, but at least the Trisagion prayers (“O Heavenly King” through “Our Father”) and other prayers and short services, whatever suits you best. Ask your priest for guidance.

The really important thing is to say the Prayer to the Lord Jesus, and not say it like “OK, here’s where I repeat this prayer a lot.” The point is not to get really good at saying the Jesus Prayer. It’s the connection with him that matters. At first, you are likely to feel like you’re talking to a brick wall. But that melts, and you sense him there, listening. Then you know what you’re looking for, and the saying comes true that “Saying the Jesus Prayer teaches you how to say the Jesus Prayer.”

So you have one major prayer-time and several smaller ones. In time, all these prayer-times knit themselves together. It becomes seamless, constant. Eventually you are not saying the words of the prayer in your mind anymore; you are just staying in the presence of Jesus. Then the words aren’t necessary anymore. You just know through and through that the Lord is beside you.

At that point you can be “in prayer,” in the sense of internally worshiping the Lord, on the beach, in a restaurant, in any group of people. It doesn’t interfere with your doing things and talking, because it’s not a matter of words anymore. It’s like having your friend beside you while you go through your day; it enhances the day immeasurably, without dividing your attention.

Keep on doing your daily prayer times, though. I think it is OK to change them around; I do that. I take it as a good sign if I am failing to complete my prayer rule. I think it’s good to be demanding more of myself than I can actually fulfill. So if I am failing to complete my prayer rule perfectly, then it’s set at about the right level for what I should be asking myself to do.

The words of the Jesus Prayer don’t go away permanently. When you begin to go through your prayer rope, start off by saying the words of the Prayer. Perhaps you will keep saying them all the way through. Day to day, it can be different. Also, the Prayer can come to you throughout the day, as a reminder.

May God bless and lead you in all things! Seek the guidance of your priest and spiritual father / mother. I can only share what worked for me. >>

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

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