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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 05.10.2023

October 5th, 2023

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

I’m here at the last of our Year of Prayer workshops at Much Wenlock.  I’m so grateful for all those who have organised and hosted, and especially to Nick Helm, our Spirituality Advisor.  This is the last event that Nick is participating in after 13 years in role in the diocese.

Its been my privilege to lead a workshop on the Jesus Prayer.  This is an ancient prayer, drawn together in the mists of time, but certainly much loved and used by the end of the first millennium.  It has been a rich feature of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, but has more recently become a treasure of the west as well.  It is a very simple twelve words.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have mercy on me a sinner. It’s a prayer to be repeated often, sometimes in time with our breathing, which can draw us into the presence of God.

I come from a tradition of the Church which has in the past derided ‘vain repetition’. You could argue that Jesus was critical of the Pharisees who thought they might be heard because of their many words.  But the repetition of simple prayers and phrases is a great aid for those who find them helpful. Its akin to music practice.  One never gains mastery of an instrument without regular and focussed practice, especially through the use of scales. Eventually these become second nature. From that base of competence more complex pieces can be attempted.

Our imagination is one of the greatest gifts in prayer.  Imaginatively entering into scripture passages as a part of Lectio Divina can open up new insights. The downside of imagination is that it can become highly subjective.  I have had people come to me in the past sharing insights into popular passages and stories that bore no relation to what the passages clearly said. Imagination should be a key to respond to what God has revealed to us.  Untethered from such revelation it can become projection and wish fulfilment.

The strength of the Jesus prayer is that it couples a meditation on how God has shown himself to us and a right response grounded in the reality of our frailty.  The phrase Lord Jesus Christ points us to Jesus as the Lord of heaven and earth, not a projection of our current cultural preferences. It is a prayer to the one who commands our absolute allegiance and submission. But the title (not the surname) Christ reminds us that he is full of the Spirit and comes to save, restore and transform us and the world.  The next stanza Son of God places Jesus as more than a mere man.  He is part of the Trinitarian God himself.  We are invited to participate in this life.  Christian life is not simply religious discipline it is an invitation to the life of God.  This is a life we can access now and which goes on forever.

The second part asks that the grace shown in Jesus life, death and resurrection could be ours.  Have mercy on me.  It’s a prayer of humility.  I can’t survive without this love and life. I need it as much as I need food, water and air. I need it because I am a sinner.  This is a realistic description. Despite the fact the word has been weaponised and used to single out particular groups, we are all sinners.  We all need forgiveness. To acknowledge we are sinners is not to be condemned but liberated.  This is precisely why Jesus came. The son of man came to seek and save that which was lost.  It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Attempting to conceal this reality from God is absurd. He will not be surprised by this confession!  The gateway to real life comes through it.

So, why not try the Jesus prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have mercy on me a sinner. Try it in a quiet moment repeated a few times, try it in the depths of the night when sleep eludes you and your mind wanders in unhealthy directions. Use it in times of silence in liturgical prayers. Try it in step with your breathing.  Breathe in ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’. Breath out ‘have mercy on me a sinner’ Or try double breathing, in: Lord Jesus Christ, out: Son of God; in: have mercy on me, out: a sinner. Let me know how you get on in the comments.  It might not be one that resonates with you which is absolutely fine.  Our diverse characters mean we most easily relate to God in different ways. Personally, I’ve found it very helpful.  I hope you might too.

+ Richard

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