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Pastor’s Word for September 13, 2020

I would like to foster conversations in our community about our faith, which touches on the most profound matters of our lives. To help get the conversation going I’m providing a weekly set of questions that you can use to help tell parts of your faith story.
I invite you to pick a question and share your answer with a family member or friend, and, if you would like, write it down and share with me. I would love to hear your story! I would also love for our members to hear each other’s stories, so be sure to let me know if you’d be willing to share in the weekly newsletter. I will never publish your story without your consent.
Here are this week’s questions:
Memories:      What have you enjoyed or appreciated most about your church?
Etchings:         What piece of music says something about your faith? In what way?
Values:            What do you often find yourself praying about?
Actions:           Describe a person you have noticed who seems ready to do good for anyone, even strangers.
What do you often find yourself praying about?
In my second year of seminary I discovered a book that came to have a big influence on my prayer life, The Way of a Pilgrim, a 19th century Russian classic on the spiritual life. The book describes the journey of a peasant from Ukraine to Siberia as he learns from spiritual masters and practices the Jesus Prayer. I was really captivated by the story of the pilgrim, and it led me—as was the story’s purpose—to try practicing the Jesus Prayer for myself.
The classic form of this prayer is:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

These words are repeated continuously with the intention that the prayer move from the lips, to the mind, and eventually to the heart where it becomes the “prayer without ceasing” that scripture speaks of (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
At the same time as I began to practice the Jesus Prayer I also was embarking on a pilgrimage of my own – from the monastic community of Taizé in France, to the restored Benedictine monastery on the holy island of Iona in Scotland, to the Lutheran retreat centre of Holden Village in Washington state. It was a summer of adventure, spiritual growth, and theological discovery, throughout which the Jesus Prayer became my companion.
During my travels I would set aside time each day to practice saying the words of the prayer softly to myself. It soon became that I would pray the words silently in rhythm with my breath. Gently inhaling: Lord Jesus Christ; quietly exhaling: Son of God; inhaling: have mercy on me; exhaling: a sinner. The prayer could also be abbreviated: Lord, have mercy.
What I found was that the words became a centre of focus for my mind and a container for reflection. While the words were being repeated my mind came to ponder the meaning of Jesus’ Lordship and Sonship for me. I reflected on my need for mercy, and the extent of my sin.
Most often when I started praying the Jesus Prayer I would be focused on myself and my own needs. Petitions would come to my mind as I asked Jesus for mercy. Have mercy on me… because of that sin I committed. Have mercy on me… to fulfill this unmet need of mine. Have mercy on me… to help with this trouble.
But as I kept repeating the prayer other people and their needs would come to mind unbidden. Have mercy on… this family member who is going through some struggles. Have mercy on… the stranger I met today on the street. Have mercy on… a friend experiencing difficulties. Have mercy on them, would become my prayer.
After a while of these intercessions, the prayer would transform again, now into a prayer of gratitude. “Lord, you have mercy on me!” would now be my prayer as God’s gifts would rise to mind. I saw a beautiful sunrise this morning – Lord, you have mercy on me! That person offered a listening ear just when I needed it – Lord, you have mercy on me! I had a moment of connection with someone – Lord, you have mercy on me!
The final transformation of the prayer was into a collective gratitude. I would begin to see how I shared experience with friends and neighbours, and how I was connected. Lord, you have mercy on us!
The Jesus Prayer thus became a universal prayer that began with petition for myself, evolved into intercession for others, and then transformed into gratitude and praise. In the years since that summer of pilgrimage I haven’t always been as faithful or regular in my prayer times, but the Jesus Prayer has always been there for me. It continues to be an important and precious practice of my life.