I’ve always known about the Jesus Prayer, but it wasn’t until about 5 months ago that I decided to take it seriously. I love Eastern Catholic/Orthodox theology and spirituality by the way. One blockage to praying it fervently however is the fact that according to the Spiritual Fathers who wrote on the prayer in the Philokalia, one must not “imagine Jesus” while praying it, and one must empty oneself so that one can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and I also know they warn against it because of equating consolation with conversion, which, having had the grace of cultivating an interior life of sorts and being in continual dialogue with a spiritual director, I know that consolation is just that, a feeling that one is to give thanks to God for, but not being so hung up on it or actively trying to seek out said consolation. Feelings are for the large part, secondary in the spiritual life. But since I have quite a strong imagination and because I pray the Rosary and do a Lectio of sorts on the mysteries that I’m praying, I find it terribly hard not to at least picture the face of Jesus as Pantokrator in my mind, which also helps keep me from being distracted. For my experienced Eastern brothers and sisters out there, Catholic or Orthodox, is it wrong to keep praying the Jesus prayer in this way, even though I find this way to be the best for me? My mind loves “seeing” and “imagining”, so naturally when I pray the Jesus Prayer, I find it much less distracting if I can picture Jesus in front of me, and me offering Him those prayers, as opposed to trying to make my mind a black cavern filled with nothing. Just a question for my Eastern Brothers and Sisters out there, because I want some counsel. By the way, I will be beginning the formal process of switching Rites from Roman Catholicism into my native Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, which is my patrimony and tied into my heritage and culture as a Hungarian-Canadian.
I’m so happy you’re coming back to the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church! Are you actually Hungarian or Carpatho-Rusyn? (My mom is Carpatho-Rusyn.)
It is better to pray than to not pray. I am.not sure that a fixed image of an icon is using imagination since you did not compose that icon, it has been presented to you and you.remember it. Using imagination may mean you trying to imagine a new icon or trying to hear voices or that sort of things.
Others please correct me if I am wrong.
Reading this I think of St Ignatius of Loyola. Am I correct in thinking he encouraged one to imagine being with Jesus in a Gospel scene and Ignatius considered that feelings are important?
As someone said, prayer is prayer!
Here are some tips from The Way of the Pilgrim and Thr Pilgrim Continues His Way:
- Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place.
- Recollect yourself.
- With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention.
- Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, “Lord Jesus Christ son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently.
- As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in.
- Be patient and peaceful.
- Be moderate in food, drink and sleep.
- Learn to love silence.
- Read the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer.
- As much as possible avoid distracting occupations.
I am actually Hungarian, even though I know our Church is Carpatho-Rusyn/Ruthenian in origin. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom nurtured me for 7-8 years of my life virtually every Sunday at the Hungarian Byzantine Parish, I even learnt how to serve it in about a month of frequenting it, and since my years maturing in the Faith, I’ve come to be really drawn to the spirituality, theology etc. of the East.
I love that book. That book is in the top 5 most life changing books for me as far as prayer and devotion goes. It was another big gateway into me turning East…
I got that book some months ago. I was looking for the translation by Helen Bacovin and finally found it.
Thank you for that Mary888. I love the prayer, and I know like the Rosary, it requires the same amount of devotion, love, contrition, discipline and concentration that the Rosary does, but for me what sold me on the Jesus Prayer is the Eastern understanding of sin and the healing we need from it. Because of my struggles with scruples, I’ve found the Eastern understanding of healing from sin as opposed to a veiled legalism that is unfortunately given pride of place in the West to be much more gentle on my relationship with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I know that sin IS breaking Divine Law against an all Just and Infinite God, but whereas one is pleading with God not be struck dead/punished in the west and the legalism that the mindset entails, I love how in the East one is seeking medicine for sin from the Divine Physician. And the latter is a much better incentive for me to go out and seek forgiveness without dread or fear because I long to be within the Life of the Blessed Trinity, as opposed to dreading the “big cop in the sky” who is looking to arrest me for wrongdoing (granted my thought patterns aren’t this drastic on the matter, but when I boil my first principles down to the root, this is the logic I inevitably end up at).
Over the years I’ve read plenty in Eastern mystical theology that encourages imaginative meditation, particularly when reading the Scriptures. I’ve also heard various speakers do a sort of guided meditation with the Jesus Prayer that used imagery.
I think the biggest catch when using imaginative meditation is the temptation to think it’s the summit of the spiritual life when it’s going well. So one can get in a rut even when it feels like all is great. It can be hard for God to move us forward in the spiritual life when we won’t allow him because we’re content using our imagination.
In response to you’re opening up about your struggles with scrupulosity - I had a similar struggle as a teenager (a long time ago), and it wasn’t until I dove into Eastern spiritual theology that I was able to overcome that struggle. It still rears its ugly head from time to time. But then I think of Christ as the Divine Physician trying to heal my wounds, rather than the Divine Judge waiting to strike me down.
A great Western saint who is a wonderful antidote to the veiled legalist mentality is St. Alphonsus Liguori. He has some chapters in his Preparation for Death that speak beautifully of God’s mercy (without neglecting God’s justice).
Watch “Orthodox Christian Jesus Prayer Chant in English” on YouTube
So everyone can listen!
Not to derail the thread, and I think it’s fine to follow an Eastern Catholic tradition if that works better for people or feels more like their patrimony, but the West has many such saints. My first encounter with the idea of Jesus as Heavenly Physician came from St. Bridget of Sweden, who is most definitely an old-school Western saint.
I’m a bit baffled by this idea of the West thinking of God as a judge or cop trying to “get” people and “strike them down”. Where do people get such strange ideas?
Well, the East never gave birth to Jansenism. And the East does a much better job at calling one to repentance incessantly because God is the source of all good, and since He is our ultimate end, why would we want to do anything but repent at every moment? Add to it that the East places more emphasis on lived experience and the tradition of the Church Fathers, the foundation upon which our Faith is built. Scrupulosity, which does rear its ugly head everywhere, isn’t as frequent in the East, particularly among Orthodox and I’ve talked to quite a few devout Orthodox people and say that for them, even as they grow in their faith, they never encounter it. It’s foreign to them. They just love Jesus and the Church and they seek to grow and grow and that’s it. They don’t get hung up on morals as often as we do. Add to that that for Catholics who are young in their faith in the West, scruples are often part of that coming to age journey. Not so much in the East.
A good friend of mine is a devout Episcopalian. She says she thinks when we get to heaven, God will look at us, shake his head and kind of chuckle, and say, What were you people thinking?
Well, he’ll definitely say that about those Episcopalians
OK, this makes some historic sense. I’m too young to have experienced anything like Jansenism though. I suspect most people currently walking around in the Western Church have no idea what it is/ was.
The Western Church in my lifetime since Vatican II has sought to emphasize God’s love and mercy to the point where some Catholics have become alarmed over it and sought to return to a more rigorous moral code.
I maybe knew one person growing up who might have had scruples, and the person had a variety of mental conditions including a very visible eating disorder, so I would have just figured it was part of her overall mental health issue and not triggered by the fact that she was a Roman Catholic. The vast majority of Roman Catholic young people I ever knew tended to be overly lax in their practice, in keeping with the overall attitude of the Church and society at the time.
To which I’d reply “we weren’t…”
You’re right, of course. There are many saints in the West who present God as the Physician of Souls. I meant only to give one example.
As to where this idea of the “legalist” West comes from, I’m not entirely sure. From my own experience, I’d say it comes more from Protestant circles than Catholic ones. I remember being at a Baptist church when I was a very little boy (not really sure what my family was doing there, honestly), and the way the preacher presented humanity and God’s wrath terrified me so badly that I had to crawl into my mother’s lap and hide my face. I was seriously terrified that God was just waiting to strike me down the moment I slipped up.
The Baltimore Catechism was also not very helpful for me at that time, not so much because of what was taught in it, as the pictures that were in the copy I owned.
Another thing that has struck me is just how prominent “lawyer-theologians” are in the West. Beginning with Tertullian there is a long list of prominent Western theologians who were trained in law before going on to do theology, including (if memory serves me correctly) St. Alphonsus.
All that being said, I think this dichotomy between the “legalist West” and the “holistic East” is as artificial and inaccurate as the dichotomy between the “rationalist West” and the “mystical East.”
I think the concerns about the use of imagination do not come from say- envisioning an icon or picturing Jesus sitting in front of you. There is a tendency of the mind to wander and possibly create an imaginative script to day dreaming that will lead you away from the intent of the prayer. We tendency to wander in our thoughts if we are distracted.