The Jesus Prayer
“Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy of me, a sinner.”
The Jesus Prayer has been passed down for centuries. It was birthed out of the Desert Mothers and Fathers somewhere between the crossover from the 4th century to the 5th. Yes, it’s that old. It’s mostly used in Christian traditions today like The Eastern Orthodox Church, or Eastern Catholicism. More than anything else it is a prayer to be experienced, in all it’s richness. Inherent in the prayer is the intersection of a lot:
- Adoration - Calling upon Jesus in His fullness
- Confession - Have mercy on me, a sinner
- Hope - The Christ, Messiah, Promised One of redemption
- Divinity - Son of God
- Humanity - Jesus (incarnate, in the flesh) and our confession of humanity
- Authority - Lord Jesus
- Lord - Sinner and the bridge between our frailty and God’s power/glory
This prayer is meant to be a tether to reality as it is, meaning we say it and affirm the things above in the midst of life in all the stress, joy, exhaustion, fear, work, and more. It’s a prayer we say where we trust in the mystery of the Holy Spirit to transform us, making us more like Jesus.
It’s really simple. Say it over and over. Set a timer, or not. Imagine it being put on repeat in your head or out loud. Is the Holy Spirit highlighting parts of the prayer as you say it over and over? Once you’re done, ask God why that part was highlighted.
Eventually, this can become something you say as you walk between classes. Or is in the back of your head as you study, or interact with others. As you’re going to sleep, or eating breakfast. It is meant not to just be an escape, but to empower you in the Holy Spirit in the midst of life. Amen!
To experience the love of God beyond us simply talking at God; to center in Jesus; to help us settle into our own bodies and context.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and put your phone on do not disturb. (Increase the timer by 1 minute every week or so until it's at 20 minutes. 10 minutes is really to help us begin practicing this without it seeming like too much).
Find a comfortable space. Pay attention to how you’re holding your body. Are there areas of tension? As you breathe, imagine your breath traveling to that part of your body and relaxing the muscle. Receive this gift of rest from the Lord. Allow yourself to be held by the Holy Spirit.
Ask God for a word or short phrase to focus on. Imagine this word or phrase as an anchor for a boat moving about in the sea. It could be "Jesus," "Have mercy on me," or anything else that might come up. If nothing does, that’s okay. Silence as a "word" or experience can be your centering thought, word, or anchor.
Begin to slowly, periodically repeat the word, phrase, or experience of silence. This is you tossing the anchor into the water. If other thoughts start to emerge - what you have to do, something you’ve done in the past, etc - acknowledge it, gently say "not right now," and come back to your word or phrase. Another way of letting thoughts pass is to imagine you're on the shore of a river with a line of boats drifting to you. Each boat represents something else to think about. Let the boat sit in front of you briefly and imagine it drifting away leaving you to recenter with your word or phrase.
At the end of your timer, express gratitude to God and talk with God about anything that is stirring for you. Be honest. Be vulnerable. You are seen, known, and loved. Amen. If you so feel led, reach out to someone else to share what you've experienced and pray together.
Over time as you practice Centering Prayer it will become similar to "muscle memory" in sports. Think of this as "spiritual memory." You'll be able to take 2-3 minutes to settle into Centering in Jesus more easily in between conversations, walking from classroom to classroom, etc. That is one reason why we "practice" spiritual things.
Sabbath as Resistance
Exodus 20:2, 8-11 CEB
2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Mark 2:27-28 CEB
27 Then he (Jesus) said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. 28 This is why the Human One (Son of Man) is Lord even over the Sabbath.”
Sabbath literally means "halt" or "stop" in Hebrew. It's historically a day, as seen in Exodus 20:8-11.
Sabbath is first to be remembered, just as God reminds the Israelites of the foundation of their relationship (Ex 20:2). Sabbath has implications for the community - servants, immigrants, family, and more. There is an alternative economy and remembering of identity as informed by God, the God of liberation. The Israelites were slaves where their worth was solely determined by the number of bricks they made. This is not true in God's economy for the Israelites and for their practices with others. Part of Sabbath is to resist the lie that we are only what we can produce, as well as the lie that others are only what they produce for us, and this is based in God's relation to us.
Slavery would try and lay claim to them even after being liberated by God. Sin and broken systems can have residual effects - psychological, emotional, etc. This is why memory in the Bible is so important. God says so often "remember." Verse 8 above says "Remember the Sabbath." We all carry burdens, past hurt, past sin, broken relationships, and more. Part of the Sabbath is also to resist lies in those residual effects by remembering God's faithfulness and God's relation to us. We receive freedom in the grace of God, as well as offer that to others.
In the process, we bring everything discussed above under the Lordship of Jesus (Mark 2:27-28). Sabbath is human centered. It's intention is freedom, resistance to anything that would try and define our or others' worth by production, resistance to residual effects of our broken world, and ultimately so we can live more fully into God's faithfulness.
Keeping all of this in mind, the challenge for us is to make the space to actually practice remembrance, which implies time. Remember that Sabbath is human centered while pointing to God. Stop. Halt. Those things you're thinking about as why you can't will be there later. What resistance to "stop" and "halt" do you feel? Bring those to Jesus. What forces around or inside you tell you you're only worthy of what you produce, or that others are only what they produce for you? Bring those to Jesus. What things from your past personally or systemically just keep coming back? Keep bringing those to Jesus. In grad school, where do you see alignment with Sabbath, or push back to Sabbath? Bring those to Jesus. We are all in constant need of God's grace, God's reminder to us that we and others are of equal worth, and that we are loved well beyond anything we can or can't produce.
Examen Prayer for Graduate School
- Breathe slowly in and out. Repeat “Jesus” as you exhale until your body feels at rest.
- Pray, “Spirit of God, will you help me review the day?” Pause until you feel ready to continue.
- Reflect: Where did you notice God today? In your ordinary walking, eating, and conversing; in your studies and/or work; in an interaction with a friend, Professor, or colleague; walking across USC, or in the hallways of your department; in a song; in scripture. Give thanks for even the smallest of things. Receive the grace of God that is always at work and available around you.
- Reflect: Where did you notice the enemy of your being at work? In a sharp comment; in shame experienced from others and/or internally; in broken systems in the university, nation, or world; in all the “you’re not of any worth” internal dialogue; in thoughts of “I’m better than them.” Bring those before Jesus, invite Him into those very real dynamics, and ask for courage, strength, wisdom, and love to push against any lies or barriers to living fully in the Spirit.
- Reflect: Are there any areas where you are willfully living into sin, unhealthy ways of relating with self, other, and God, places of fear, and/or unwillingness, or resistance, to the Spirit personally or systemically in your department, campus, community, etc? Ask the Spirit these things, knowing it is done in the context of love, and any shame (I am a bad person vs I did something wrong/bad) is from the enemy. Confess anything that comes up, and ask for the grace already available to you in Jesus.
- Looking ahead: Where are you anticipating joy, excitement, or rest today and perhaps week? Invite the Holy Spirit into those things and feel the joy with God. Where are you anticipating difficulties, challenges, or stress? Be honest about those things, ask Jesus to help you be faithful in the midst of those things, and confess your need of grace. Finally, surrender all of these thoughts to Jesus, recognizing your influence but also humility in the fact you are but one person, sharing the limitations of 24 hours, need to eat, need for rest/sleep, need for fun, and need to be loved with everyone else. You are fully loved. Amen.