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