11.09.2007

Pray without ceasing

As I stepped onto the treadmill this afternoon, I realized to my dismay that I'd forgotten to bring a book. I'd started the strengthening phase of my chiropractic treatment, and while I found most of the exercises to be challenging and enjoyable, 8 minutes of a moderately brisk walking gait on the treadmill was horrendously dull.

So I thought I'd redeem the time saying the Jesus prayer.

But just like every time I try to think about something, I ended up thinking about the nature of thought, layered right on top of what I was trying to think. And every time I would try to pull the entirety of my thoughts back to the prayer, I would start thinking about the process of thought, and how weird it is to have layers of thought, and how do you pull your thoughts onto one thing anyway?

And then it all made sense. I'd never quite understood how we could possibly "pray without ceasing." Did that mean that we shouldn't do anything else? Or do we somehow have to train ourselves to always be multi-tasking, always praying while we're talking or thinking or doing at the same time.

But there on the treadmill, thinking these thoughts as I tried to drag my full attention back to my whispered prayer, I realized that I don't need to train myself in some sophisticated mental skill to be able to do that. There is often a subtext running underneath my intentional thoughts. Thoughts about who I am and what I'm doing and what my purpose is. It's never been an issue of training myself to do that, rather, I'm constantly struggling to get myself to shut up. The thoughts I don't think about are seldom edifying.

But maybe I don't need to silence the subtext after all. Maybe this is the very capacity with which I can pray without ceasing. Maybe prayer without ceasing doesn't involve training myself to somehow obtain a bizarre new mental skill, but rather involves filling up with truth all the mental space currently devoted to telling myself lies, or worse yet, truths devoid of proper focus.

The Way of the Pilgrim is making a whole lot more sense to me now.

I think I finally see, too, why this particular prayer is so often used for breath prayer. It quickly establishes the proper focus of everything--Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God--and then establishes who I am in relation to Him--have mercy on me, a sinner. And really, that's what I need to know to keep my bearings. And for all its clarity and simplicity, it's something that I really do need to hear about 7 times a minute.

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