Years ago, as I was trying to figure out this thing we call faith (and, by the way, I am still trying to figure it out!) I read a book entitled The Way of the Pilgrim. In the book the pilgrim goes to the master and asks the master to teach him to pray. The master tells the pilgrim to pray the Jesus Prayer 50 times and then to return to see him the next day. The pilgrim does as he is told and then returns the next day expecting an answer to his question. Instead the master tells him to pray the Jesus Prayer 100 times and to return the next day. This continues day after day until the pilgrim is using all his time to say this one sentence prayer over and over again. Finally, the master says, “Now you know how to pray.”
Since I was trying to figure out this idea called faith and this thing called God, I thought, “What the heck. I will give it a try.” And, so I started with saying the Jesus Prayer 50 times, and the next day 100 times and so on. What happened was that, over time, I found myself saying that prayer without even being aware I was doing it. Eventually it became a mantra which pushed its way to the surface of my awareness in those moments when I really needed to pay attention to where I was (in an elevator going to visit someone in the hospital) or when I needed to bring my best self to the situation in which I found myself (a difficult conversation or a stressful meeting). It is not magic, but it did and does pull me back towards my center and it did and does push some of the distractions towards the edge allowing me to be more present in the moment I have right now. Over the years I have tried, quite unsuccessfully, to learn a new one sentence prayer that better matched how I understood God and Jesus, Instead I came to realize it doesn’t so much matter what I say. What matters is that the prayer is there for me and that I remember it.
I was reminded of this last week in the conversation I had with a friend as we talked about paying better attention to how we are and who we are and where we are and to what was being asked of us in the particular moment in which we found ourselves when so much around us and within us . More times that I can count or remember, a one sentence prayer I learned 40 years ago helps me regain my balance.