An important facet of the prayer—one that I often overlook or speed past—is acknowledging in humility and truth before God that I am a sinner.
We are often afraid to acknowledge our fallen areas and our need for growth. When we are not mindful of the portion of the Jesus Prayer that precedes the word sinner—mercy—our guilt from past wrongs can lead us to shame. We believe that not only did we commit bad actions, but that we are our bad actions and therefore are bad.
The Holy Spirit, however, has a very different trajectory when it comes to sin.
The Spirit reminded me of two occasions in elementary school when I was harmful to a fellow schoolmate. I experienced tremendous regret for those actions, but the Spirit prevented me from going down the path of discouragement. Instead, I began spontaneously to shed tears for these past wrongs, tears that did not promote sadness but healing, renewal, and gratitude.
The stress of 2020 through the present has caused many, including myself, to lose sleep. I cannot count the number of nights I have laid awake for more than an hour, and I often don’t fall back asleep until minutes before my alarm is set to go off. One sleepless night, I remembered a spiritual practice that had offered profound efficacy to me in the past.
Night Vigil is a spiritual exercise from Early Christian Mysticism, whereby one enters into contemplative prayer in the middle of the night. The Holy Spirit might either awaken us to pray, or our concerns become the cause for interrupted sleep and therefore a reason to pray. Because our defenses and distractions are minimal in the middle of the night, we can devote ourselves more fully to the voice of God.
I’ve always admired the early monks and nuns of the desert literature. Not because they discovered ways of escaping the reality of paying taxes. Not only because their words were inspirational and their prayer transformative. And not primarily because they withstood the power of the empire and the test of time. But because they prevail as symbols of an alternative course of action. While their ideal is often mythologized or romanticized, even manipulated and exploited in many church circles, it nevertheless remains an image of the value of silence. Of doing less or doing nothing. Of wordlessness and inconspicuousness. Of praying instead of producing. Quite simply: of being.
In contrast, the global pandemic of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has exposed a great deal about priorities and weaknesses as a society—an extraordinarily complex community, a tangle of political, financial, health, educational, and religious institutions that affect every person worldwide. Each of these institutions is today desperately trying to come up with answers on how to restore life and save the world as we knew these. No one is immune, even the “asymptomatic”—even the most powerful nations, the most secure economies, and the most righteous believers.