Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Art of Prayer


At the recommendation of an acquaintance I am reading "The Art of Prayer, an Orthodox Anthology," compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo. The book is intended as a text on developing a deeper prayer life through recitation of the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer, for those that aren't familiar with it, goes like this: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me." The book says that some add "...a sinner." The idea is that the repetition of the prayer keeps the name of Jesus at the front of one's life, and accesses the power inherent in the name of Jesus. But this is not the entirety of the book. It also includes reflections and teaching on a developing prayer life that approaches contemplation, or the actual experience of the presence of God. In this aspect the book reads somewhat like Western works, most notably to me, Thomas Merton. Merton has written many books on the topic of contemplation as well as a few others. His most well-known work on prayer is likely "New Seeds of Contemplation." In that book, Merton provides 39 short chapters on various aspects of being, living, and communing with God. The present book is following the same concepts, but rather than distinct chapters by individual people, "The Art of Prayer" is constituted primarily of quotations from Orthodox spiritual writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. I'll let you know how it goes.

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