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.
As an Eastern Catholic, I find tremendous solidarity with Orthodox Christians. One of these areas of commonality is our love for the Jesus Prayer.
I discovered the Jesus Prayer in an unlikely place and from an unlikely source.
In 2010, during my first year of the Jesuit Novitiate, I borrowed JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey from the community library. I loved reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school and shortly after college, so I was intrigued to read another Salinger novel.
But I didn’t expect this Salinger novel to have a spiritual impact on me.
Zooey introduced me to the Jesus Prayer. When she explained this prayer to her boyfriend Lane, she enlightened me, and I am sure many others, about the encounter with Christ and the experience of His Peace by praying this simple, ancient prayer.
Internet trolling has, unfortunately, become commonplace even in Christian circles. While at times these trolls are known individuals who get a rise out of provoking anger and controversy, the present trend includes anonymous social media accounts using profile photos of holy images, while spewing responses that are anything but holy.
Without going on a tangent into the specific nature of this Internet trolling event, trolling not only predates social media, but can be found intertwined with Christian history. Even the temptation of Jesus in the desert was a form of trolling (cf. Matthew 4:1-11).
Most recently, I encountered a saint who also dealt with a troll. Following my article on Night Vigil, I became inspired to spend time with the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas, namely Holy Hesychia: The Stillness that Knows God. Therein I learned of the saint’s encounter with a troll (17).
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.