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Pray Continually

Pray Continually

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 — Week of 2 Advent, Year 1

Lucy (Lucia), Martyr at Syracuse, 304

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 936)

Psalms 26, 28 (morning) // 36, 39 (evening)

Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Luke 21:29-38

The lyrical postscript to 1 Thessalonians is the main source of the blessing that I occasionally use at the conclusion of our worship:

Go forth into the world in peace.

Be of good courage.

Hold fast to that which is good.

Render to no one evil for evil.

Strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted;

Honor all persons.

Love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

And the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

be with you now and evermore.

Part of my attachment to that blessing is related to my fondness and respect for my former priest and bishop Duncan Gray, Jr. This was the blessing that Bishop Gray used so many times. In his biography of Duncan Gray, And Also With You, Will Campbell titled his chapters with the phrases of the blessing. The blessing is an ancient prayer, and as far as I know, of anonymous origin.

There is another phrase in today’s Epistle that carries some emotional freight for me. Verse 17 is a brief one: “Pray continually” (CEB) or “Pray without ceasing” (NRSV). At first blush it sounds like an impossible command. Our consciousness must be busy with many things. We have to work, think, even sleep. How can we pray continually, without ceasing?

Out of honor for this brief verse, spiritual seekers in the Eastern church developed the powerful tradition of the Jesus Prayer, a brief prayer that one could repeat so regularly that it lodges itself in the consciousness at such depth that it actually prays itself. To practice the Jesus Prayer one would repeat it with concentration for a period of time, and then maintain the prayer constantly as you go through your day. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Another Episcopal priest, Ron Delbane, taught me an updated version of this tradition called a Breath Prayer. First, Ron asks, “What name do you usually use for God?” (Jesus, Lord, Holy One, Abba, Creator, Spirit, etc.) Then he asks you to imagine Jesus standing right in front of you. Hear Jesus ask you a question in a very personal and intimate way: “What do you want?” How would you answer? Take some time. What do you most deeply want? Once you find the answer to that question, put the Name of God and your petition into a phrase of five to seven syllables. Play with it until it has some rhythm for you.

examples

Help me live in your peace, O God.

Jesus, let me know your presence.

Hold me in your arms, great Creator.

Abba, guide me in your paths.

Ron suggests that we spend five minutes each day silently repeating our Breath Prayer in the depths of our heart. Then, let the prayer fill the spaces in your day — when you are driving, when you are standing in line, before making a telephone call, walking from place to place. Some people have little prompts for remembering and repeating their Breath Prayer — a teacher whenever she hears a bell, a person whenever he sees his favorite color yellow, every time one goes through a door…

After months and even years of use, such a prayer will rise up of its own accord from our subconscious. With time, it will begin to repeat itself, even as we sleep. It is a way that some people learn to “Pray continually.”

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