I was getting the bus on a typical wet and cold Vancouver June-uary day this afternoon to take me to the DTES (downtown east side for those not from these parts). It’s not an attractive place to be heading to on a grey day and I wasn’t feeling at my chirpiest to start off with. So, both to shift my mood and make the bus ride a little more purposeful, I resorted to what is my default go-to prayer practice of the moment – the Jesus Prayer.
This is one of the oldest forms of Christian prayer as well as one of the simplest. Its traditional form is ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner’. The two halves of the prayer are like two wings beating together to carry you into an awareness of God’s presence. Its simplicity invites repetition and provides a focus in the midst of other activity – like taking transit (public transport if you’re reading this from the other side of the pond).
Some people struggle with the identification of themselves as a sinner because it takes them into places of judgment and shame. I actually like it. Firstly it’s accurate. Secondly it reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect to be in God’s presence and to be loved by God. Thirdly it makes me feel at one with all the rest of glorious, muddled and sinful humanity. This, in turn and slightly contrariwise, then often leads me to change the last phrase to ‘have mercy on us’ so that I can include all the rest of the bus in my prayer.
The other gift this prayer gives to me is the sense that I’m not praying alone but am caught up in a whole sweeping river of prayer across the centuries as well as across the world. The language might not be what I would choose if I was writing the prayer today, but it has achieved its own holiness through its faithful, hopeful repetition by others, alike and different from me, who have been striving to be aware of the presence of God in their everyday lives. So I can get over myself and dive in with the rest of them.
I won’t pretend that the Jesus Prayer brought sunshine and beauty into my afternoon but it did remind me that God is present in the grey and the ugly making them a little less gloomy than they first appeared.