Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Shepherds on the Hill

High on a bluff, opposite the City of Bethlehem sits the traditional site of the Shepherd’s fields.  Set well back from the edge of the bluff are some shallow low ceilinged caves, such as those commonly used by shepherds watching over their flocks by night.  Each cave is large enough to hold a fair sized flock of sheep.  At night the shepherds built their campfire and lay down in mouth of the caves.  The shepherds were the door of the sheep.  Walking to the edge of the bluff one looks down on the fields of Boaz.  Boaz was the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David the King, who was the direct line ancestor of Jesus on both Joseph’s side and on Mary’s side.  Joseph’s genealogy is given in the Gospel of Matthew, and Mary’s in the Gospel of Luke.


         The flock they guarded was large enough for several shepherds to tend.  Shepherds were usually single men too young to marry, or landless bachelors.  It was rough work, dirty work, tending sometimes recalcitrant, wayward, and often stupid sheep.  It could be dangerous protecting the sheep from thieves, wolves, and as David tells us from marauding lions or bears.

        There were no city lights, no ambient light; the only illumination starlight and the waning or waxing moon.  Looking across the fields of Boaz, Bethlehem would be silhouetted blackly on the horizon.


            The account of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is plain and unadorned.  A young couple, Joseph and Mary, travel by foot, no donkey; only the wealthy could afford a donkey.  The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is approximately 70 miles depending on the route they would have chosen.  On arriving in Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David, they found that there was no room in the inn.  The customary inn was little more than one room and a courtyard, with a cave for a stable nearby.  They took refuge in the stable which, all things considered, was probably considerably cleaner than the inn would have been and had the advantage of privacy.  The newborn baby is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid on the hay in a stone manger.  The only hint in the passage of things to come is the simple reference affirming that Joseph was of the lineage of David, but so also was Mary.

            The theological weight of this part of the story rests solely on the appearance of the angel to the shepherds on the hill.

Luke 2:8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 

            At first only one angel appears.  The radiant light of the Cloud of the Glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds, and we are told that they were filled with fear.

Luke 2:10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 

            That is the heart of the matter, all else is trappings.  The baby is the Savior who has come into the world to save his people from their sins.  He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one who is the Lord.  The title is evocative of Psalm 45.  The one who is born is the Living God in the flesh.

Psalm 45:6 Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.  7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.  8 All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.

            In the birth of this infant the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled,

  Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

            It is only after the central message is safely and clearly delivered that the multitude of angels appears.  The phrase, “Lord God of Hosts,” actually means “Lord God of Armies.”  The multitude of the heavenly host appearing is the Angelic Army of the Lord. 

Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."  16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 

It is significant that it is to simple working class men that the angels appear; not to prelates or scholars, not to rulers or priests, not to Sadducees or Pharisees.  Why?  Because God knew the hearts of these men, and He knew that they would respond with joyful faith.

Luke 2:18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

            Do I need to make the application?  I certainly do.

1 Corinthians 1: 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Grace of Deification and the Charisms of the Spirit

God never does the same thing twice, not even snowflakes, much less the outpouring of His Spirit on human flesh. He cries out “"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[i]

In order to understand the Charisms, the Gifts of the Spirit, we have to look at the Incarnation and its implication for us and also at the same time view the Charisms in the context of the larger work of the Spirit which is our deification, or sanctification.  When the Spirit of God comes to dwell in us he comes with all that he is, including both the fruit of the Spirit and the Charisms. Let me remind you of Gregory Palamas teaching on deification:

The grace of deification . . . transcends nature, virtue and knowledge, and . . . “all these things are inferior to it.”  Every virtue and imitation of God on our part indeed prepares those who practice them for divine union, but the mysterious union itself is effected by grace.  It is through grace that “the entire Divinity comes to dwell in fullness in those deemed worthy,” and all the saints in their entire being dwell in God, receiving God in His wholeness, and gaining no other reward for their ascent to Him than God Himself.  “He is conjoined to them as a soul is to its body, to its own limbs”; judging it right to dwell with believers by the authentic adoption, according to the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit.[ii]

Reference: 1 Corinthians 3:16   16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?[iii]

If the Holy Spirit is in you, joined “as a soul to its body, to its own limbs,” the whole of the Spirit dwells within you; you cannot pick and choose what part of the Spirit of God you want to possess. John the baptizer states a principle that applies to the Incarnate Christ and to all who are called by His name: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.”[iv]  You cannot have half a cup of the Holy Spirit.  However what you experience depends on your receptivity and openness.  That is why the Psalmist says, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.”[v]  Our hearts are enlarged by sharing in the ministry of God’s love incarnate in our hearts, by loving God with all our hearts, souls and bodies, and by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”  It is the work of responsive love that enlarges our hearts.

On the Charisms

The word “charismatic” is derived from the Greek word “charism,” a New Testament word for a gift of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Suenens of Belgium once said, “No charisms, no Church.” Both Christ and His Church are charismatic in nature.  All ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church is carried out by the charisms of the Holy Spirit. The shape of the ministry of the Church is determined by the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Where this is no longer true, you have only a dead and lifeless orthodoxy.

The charisms of the Holy Spirit are so evident in the life and ministry of Jesus that His very title “Christ” refers to the Chrism, or Anointing of the gift giving Spirit of God. We ourselves are called “Christians.” The word was originally an insult referring to “little anointeds.” We are in a deep sense charismatic, precisely because we bear the name Christian. That is why at every confirmation the Bishop prays over the new confirmands saying, “By the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service. Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.”  Palamas anchors his teaching on charisms in the life of prayer.

            Indeed every man of sense knows well that most of the charisms of the Spirit are granted to those worthy of them at the time of prayer.  “Ask and it shall be given”, the Lord says.  This applies not only to being ravished “even to the third heaven”, but to all the gifts of the Spirit.  The gift of diversity of tongues and their interpretation, which Paul recommends us to acquire by prayer, shows that certain charisms operate through the body…. The same is true of the word of instruction, the gift of healing, the performing of miracles, and Paul’s laying on of hands by which he communicated the Holy Spirit.

Reference: 2 Corinthians 3: 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.[vi]

It is prayer, that dynamic and living connection with God through His Spirit, that releases the Gifts of the Spirit in His people in response to the ministries to which each person is called.  There is an old principle, “God never calls anyone to minister without standing ready to equip that person for ministry.”  Palamas goes on to say:

            In the case of the gifts of instruction and of tongues and their interpretation, even though these are acquired by prayer, yet it is possible that they may operate even when prayer is absent from the soul.  But healings and miracles never take place unless the soul of the one exercising either gift be in a state of intense mental prayer and his body in perfect tune with his soul.

            In short the transmission of the Spirit is effected not only when prayer is present in the soul, a prayer which mystically accomplishes the union with the perpetual source of these benefits; not only when one is practicing mental prayer, since it is not recorded that the apostles uttered any audible words at the moment of laying on their hands.  This communication takes place, then, not only during the mental prayer of the soul, but also at those moments when the body is operating, when for instance the hands through which the Holy Spirit is sent down are touching the man who is being ordained.  How can you say that such charisms involving the body are not just as much gifts of God, given for the good of those who pray to possess them, alleging as your reason that those “ravished to the third heaven” must forget what concerns the body.[vii]

The basic gifts of the Spirit are listed in I Corinthians 12:4-11, but the New Testament in other places lists approximately twenty-six gifts of the Spirit, although the gifts of the Spirit should not be limited to just those actually listed in either Old or New Testaments.[viii]  The Spirit is infinite in nature and in the variety of His works.

I4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.[ix]

God’s exhortation to his people is “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” We cannot relive the past, but we can be open to a future unfolding of the Charisms and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is doing a new thing. It is at once Biblical, Sacramental, and Growing in the Spirit. It is deeply rooted in Scripture, tradition and the theology and history of the Church, and it is a logical continuation of those things that the Church has always believed. It is a new thing in that it is a fresh experience of the Holy Spirit, Who Himself makes all things new. It is not God’s intention that we fondle faded glories, but that we renew His work in this present time by opening our minds and hearts and surrendering to the Lord who breathes new life into His people.

[i] Isaiah 43:18-19
[ii] Gregory Palamas, The Triads, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1983), pp. 52-53.
[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:16  
[iv] John 3:34
[v] Psalm 119:32
[vi] 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
[vii] Palamas, p. 83
[viii] In the Old Testament Moses speaks of the Gifts of the Spirit given to Bezalel: Exodus 35:30-31  "See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah;  31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,
[ix] 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.  Note also from the Second Book of Homilies in the sermon “On the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts Thereof, “The holy Ghost doeth alwayes declare himselfe by his fruitfull and gracious giftes, namely, by the worde of wisedome, by the worde of knowledge, which is the vnderstanding of the Scriptures, by faith, in doing of miracles, by healing them that are diseased, by prophesie, which is the declaration of GODS mysteries, by discerning of spirits, diuersities of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and so foorth. All which giftes, as they proceede from one spirit, and are seuerally giuen to man according to the measurable distribution of the holy Ghost: Euen so doe they bring men, and not without good cause, into a wonderfull admiration of GODS diuine power (1 Corinthians 12.7-11). [1562-1563]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Marching Towards the Light: A Retreat Postscript

On our retreat one of our members shared with us the account of a monk at a Monastery whose responsibility was the tending of the graves in the Monastery Cemetery.  One grave had no headstone, but the monk had placed flowers on it along with the other graves.  Why?  It was his own grave and he lived with a sense of his own mortality and the hope of eternal life.  We are all marching towards that eternal light.

            This was sharply focused on our last Morning Prayer with the Sisters in the Monastery Chapel.  I drove from the Retreat Center to the Monastery with one of our members who has a little difficulty walking, only to find some confusion.  The Monastery door was locked and no-one was available to answer the bell.  We walked around to another entrance, up a short flight of stairs, and headed for the elevator to the Monastery Chapel. 

            The elevator door opened immediately but the elevator was full; three paramedics and one of the Sisters were accompanying an older Sister who was strapped into a gurney.  As they came out of the elevator and passed by us the older Sister on the gurney smiled pleasantly at us and said, “Good morning,” almost as though there was nothing wrong.

            Morning Prayer had already begun when we took our seats.  The Sisters were singing the Morning Hymn and as they began to chant the Psalm I could hear the “beep, beep, beep” of the ambulance backing up and bearing the older Sister away.  Apparently her blood pressure had shot up to 200.

            Together, Sisters and Oblates, we continued to sing Morning Prayer.  We are all of us marching towards the light and our heavenly home.  God grant us the grace, like the Sisters of St. Scholastica, to continue marching towards the light unafraid, with a song on our lips, and our hearts fixed on the Resurrected Christ in whom is all our trust and hope.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


The Pentecostal Scholar Simon Chann of Singapore has made some surprising statements, surprising because they come from the Pentecostal expression of the Christian Faith. The statements, as I read them through my own filters, are:  “Worship is not just a function of the Church, but the Church’s very reason for being;” and “What is the mission of the Trinity?  And the answer to that question is communion.  Ultimately all things are to be brought into communion with the Triune God.  Communion is the ultimate end, not mission.  Communion …is ultimately, seeing God and seeing the heart of God as well, which is his love for the world.” [i]   

That takes me back to the rhythm of personal renewal reflected in the flux and reflux in the writings of Van Ruysbroek.  As we empty ourselves in the service of God and in the warfare between the kingdom and the world we reach the end of ourselves and personal Depletion.  We, then by pure grace and pure gift return to him.  Being restored by communion with God we flow back out into the world, sharing in the self-emptying and incarnate love of the Logos, the Christ, even Jesus, whom we adore.  We then flow back into the world and into the holy warfare of making disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name, and into communion with, “the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything the Logos has commanded, for lo, he is with us always even to the end of the age.”  In an act of further Incarnation he is not only with us but in us, even in our own self-emptying mission into the world. 

In Hebrews 12:22, he tells us that we have come to join in the heavenly communion…and together, hand in hand, “have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  We have come to the thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church, the Church of the first-born.  We have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect.  We have come to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, to the sprinkled blood that is our at-one-ment with the Triune God who loves us. 

In coming we receive a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Thus “let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire,” and all that is not holy love within us will be burned up that we might be purified, and thus purified and united with his holy love we flow back into the world, his own creation which he loves and seeks to restore to himself. 

The other paradigm that fits with this is the classic “God initiates and man responds.”  God in his love, reconciling justice and mercy, sends the Logos incarnate into the world.  We ourselves are ransomed by his action: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (Psalm 49:7-9), and “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:15).  We receive our at-one-ment and in holy and exuberant joy are drawn out of ourselves, out of our locus in the world, and drawn into the holy fellowship of the saints and angels, and for a few moments, by grace often repeated, we are united with him and with his redeeming love.  That is the first motion. 

The second is this: Now that we are in him and he in us; we, with joy, join in his redeeming work and through us and our love he reaches out to the world around us.  This happens, even to the extent, that Paul can state an oft experienced pastoral reality and say: “I make up in my own body that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of the Church, which is his body” (Col. 1:24).

This empowering union becomes a complete reality in the sacramental union that we celebrate in Holy Eucharist.  Gathered ‘round the altar in the fellowship of saints and angels, we kneel, and in humble adoration we receive the body and blood of Christ.  Do not explain away his simple, but profound, declaration, “This is my body.  This is my blood.”  Most of the American Protestant world misses the reality claiming perversely that it is a memorial only.  That is a phenomenal and costly error.  There is a reason why the proverbial mega-church is a mile wide and a quarter of an inch deep. 

There is little cost to Christ, or to us in such bloodless gatherings.  In the body and the blood we receive the very substance of God incarnate.  He who is one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, becomes of one substance with us, not only in His incarnation, but also in the giving of His body and blood.  He becomes one substance with us as regarding His manhood and His Godhead, which is undivided (Council of Chalcedon Definition, 451 AD, as applied to the Eucharist)[ii].  We receive him Himself, more than the mere experience of praise, more than in the discipline of daily offices, we receive Him and enter into a mutual indwelling with the Holy God.  It receiving Him we take him in us back into the world.

Peter Kreeft remarks, “How irrational to swallow a camel and strain at gnat!—to believe the greater miracle, the oneness of the man Christ with God, and not the lesser one, the oneness of the bread with his body.  If God can leap the infinite gap into man, he can surely leap into the appearances of bread and wine.” [iii]

For that matter, how irrational to believe that that God can leap the infinite gap into man, and not believe that through Christ he can make that infinite leap into each one of us.

Every Sunday we are dressed in white and surrounding the altar, we lift up holy hands as liturgists (leitourgos - liturgist = minister) in praise and worship of Him in the liturgy of communion, in the heavenlies, receiving again his very substance. 

In those moments sacramentally and really we feed upon the body and blood of the Christ who said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (John 6:56).  And again, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation, a communion, a fellowship, a koinonia, in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break is it not a koinonia in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (I Cor. 11:16-17). 

We do not come to worship to be entertained.  If anything we are the entertainment for the Lord.  Now united with him, in union with him, we join in his holy mission out into the world.  Through such worship, ministry, liturgy, through the body and the blood we receive the Spirit of power. 

Hence in our congregation, before the sermon we pray, “Holy Spirit, it is your purpose to reveal to us the living God and his only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord: Pour on us the fire of your love.  Warm our hearts, challenge our minds and gently draw our wills along your paths, that your presence and power may quicken our love, deepen our joy, and equip us to meet the challenges of our daily lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  This happens not only through proclamation, but also through the union of word and sacrament.  We proclaim the Word to the world, and draw those who are being saved into union with him in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. 

St. Paul expresses this mission of the church in this way: “I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15-16).  The language is sacramental language.  The minister is the liturgist, the priestly service is precisely that which the priest does Sunday by Sunday as the liturgist of God at the altar.  The word for offering, is prosphora, that which is offered on the altar of God.  This offering is sanctified, made holy by the Holy Spirit, the Ruach Elohim of the Old Testament and the New. 

The offering that we offer is actually the “offering of the Gentiles.” specifically the fruits our work of evangelism.  In love and adoration we present to the Father those whom we have brought to salvation in his Son Jesus Christ.  This offering is possible only through Christ, and is a work directed by the Holy Spirit.  What strikes me is the awesome responsibility we bear in this matter.  If we are insensitive to the call of the Spirit, we will be left standing on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza while the eunuch makes his way back to Candace the pagan queen unconverted. 

Worship, communion with the God of love should awaken the love of God within our hearts.  When that does not indeed happen it signals that our communion with God is actually abortive and all our religious posturing is precisely that.  We are hypocrites, in the Biblical sense of that word, wearing the assumed mask of piety.  To us, then the Christ will say, “Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth (Rev. 3:15,16).  If you think that is harsh, consider this, that without Christ as his ransom, the eunuch will go to hell, and we will have no offering to bring to the Father.

The two paradigms are completed in our personal and corporate experience, in the flux and reflux, the rhythm of personal renewal, and in the responsive action in which God initiates and man responds by returning his love to him, and joining his love in his ministry and warfare in the world, the kosmos.

[i] (Christianity Today, June 2007)
[ii] “The Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ” in The Book of Common Prayer, p. 864
[iii] Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 274

Copyright © 2012 Robin P. Smith

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Yadah Prayer Cycle

The Hebrew word, Yadah means, to throw, or shoot, and also to praise.  The root of the word, yad, means handYadah means to stretch forth the hand in praise.

Praying the Jesus Prayer
Behind the practice of repeating the Jesus Prayer is the conviction “The Living God is accessible to personal experience, because He shared His own life with humanity.”[i]  You, as an individual, can know God, and you personally are known by Him.  It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit that carries us into the presence of God.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures, teaches that,

All your life long will your guardian the Comforter abide with you; He will care for you, as for his own soldier; for your goings out, and your comings in, and your plotting foes. And He will give you gifts of grace of every kind, if you grieve Him not by sin; for it is written, And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption. What then, beloved, is it to preserve grace? Be ready to receive grace, and when you have received it, cast it not away.[ii]

2.      In the Incarnation, the Living God comes to us in human form.  Without the willingness of the maiden Mary there would have been no Incarnation.  Of the Incarnation Charles Williams says,

At the beginning of life in the natural order is an act of substitution and co-inherence.  A man can have no child unless his seed is received and carried by a woman; a woman can have no child unless she receive and carries the seed of a man – literally bearing the burden.  It is not only a mutual act; it is a mutual act of substitution.  The child itself for nine months co-inheres in its mother; there is no human creature that has not sprung from such a period of an interior growth.[iii]

One of the implications of the Incarnation is that God chooses to work hand in hand with humankind, not instead of humankind.  We have a share in the grace of God by our active participation.  Like Mary we have the responsibility of saying “yes” to God, and also the responsibility of presenting ourselves, spirit, soul and body to Him in active participation with His work in our lives.  St. Paul says, 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.[iv]

The tradition of praying the Jesus Prayer reemphasizes the essential unity between spirit  and body by the use of the prayer rope as a means of helping us focus on the Divine Presence in our prayers.

3.      “The Jesus Prayer also took the form of constant mental repetition of a brief sentence such as, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”[v]    It is not that the simple discipline of the repeated Jesus Prayer earns the presence of God.   The personal experience of God is a gift.  It is God who is reaching out to us.  In the light of that we remember the words of St. Paul, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”   

One ancient method was to use a prayer rope, repeating the prayer once for each knot, and focusing your attention on the presence of God as you pray.  The prayer, addressed to Jesus Christ, is a prayer of humility, and an acknowledgement of our own frailty.  Further it helps to understand that mercy extends well beyond simple forgiveness.  One of the two major Old Testament words for mercy actually means womb, and the other is more often translated steadfast love.  So you might say, “Hold me secure in your steadfast love even though I am a sinner.  The prayer leads us personally to Jesus and to the experience of His steadfast love.

4.      The Yadah Prayer Cycle:  There is a practical difficulty in the use of a prayer rope in our society.  It is most often too obtrusive to use in public settings other than worship.  Some people use a Rosary or Anglican Prayer Beads, but that presents the same problem.  Let me suggest to you an alternative method that is based on the same principle as the prayer rope.

Ø  Start with the closed hand or fist as though you had a grip on God.  With the closed hand start your prayer cycle with a declaration of the awareness of God who is always present with his people, such as, “Lord, I thank you that you are always with me and I praise you for your love.”

Ø  The next three short prayers are an acknowledgment of the Holy Trinity. With a prayer to God the Father stretch forth the thumb; with a prayer to God the Son stretch forth your index finger; and with an invocation to the Holy Spirit extend your second finger.  You might pray: “I thank you Father that you love and accept me.  I thank you Jesus that you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I humbly ask you Holy Spirit to help me to focus in my prayers.”

Ø  Then close the hand again.  With the closed hand gripping God, bring before God the intercession that is closest to your heart and pray a brief informal prayer.

Ø  Stretch forth the thumb and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  Maintaining your focus on the Presence of God, stretch forth the index finger and repeat the Jesus Prayer, then do the same with the remaining fingers of the hand until the hand is fully extended. Note that the hand is now open as a symbol of your willingness to receive from God.

Ø  Close the hand and get a grip on the Presence of God, and make your next intercession.  Keep your prayer both informal and brief.  If you allow yourself to ramble you will lose focus.

Ø  Begin the next cycle extending the thumb, then each of the fingers in turn, and repeating the Jesus Prayer each time.  At the end, return again to the closed hand.

Ø  I find that doing five cycles of the Yadah Prayer is enough; more than that and one tends to lose focus.

Ø  At the end of fifth cycle, close the hand and briefly give God thanks that He is always willing to hear your prayers.

Ø  Then extend the thumb, and give thanks to the Holy Spirit for his help.  Next extend the forefinger and say a short prayer thanking Jesus for the power of His death and resurrection. Finally, extend the next finger and express your love and gratitude to God the Father who is always ready to hear you prayers.

Ø  Close the hand again with a grip on the Divine Presence.  You may conclude your Yadah Prayer cycle or begin again.

5.      The threefold benefit of this method is that you can pray this way any time and any place without being obtrusive.  Second, you don’t need to buy anything.  Prayer ropes tend to be expensive, and rosaries and prayer beads can break.  Third, many prayer ropes, prayer beads and rosaries have more beads in each section leading to a greater repetition of the Jesus Prayer, and also less places for intercession between each group of knots or beads.

[i] Gregory Palamas, The Triads, ed. John Meyendorf, trans. Nicholas Gendle, (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1983), p. 1 
[ii] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, The Catechetical Lectures, ed. in contemporary language by Robin P. Smith
[iii] Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1939), p. 234
[iv] Philippians 2:12-13  
[v] Palamas. p. 4