Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Praying from the Heart
"Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." Luke 18:38
Many years ago when I was struggling with my faith and looking for a spiritual home, I was part of a Lenten study group in a Roman Catholic Church in Northeast Baltimore because some friends had recommended it. We had attended a couple's retreat with some friends and that encounter grew into a small weekly bible study group. One couple, who had children in their teens, hosted us and we became quite close as we met weekly. They were a great support to us when we were new parents. The Lenten study group was working on prayer and one of the books we read was a small story about the Jesus prayer and the monk who set out on a prayer journey. The Jesus prayer is simple -"Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". As I recall,this monk wore out his tongue until finally he was able to pray the prayer constantly. I wanted to be able to pray constantly and thought that by taking up this practice, I could have real peace from God. I was a young mother, and I needed more peace than I had. I felt so ill equipped to be so responsible for another human being. I prayed the prayer many times during the day, failed miserably on a regular basis, and finally gave up,angry with myself, seemingly unable to have any real spiritual discipline. Surprisingly, months later after giving up and accepting my total failure, I found myself saying the prayer automatically. When some crisis came, I found my lips forming the Jesus prayer, silently, without a thought or preparation. An aching heart somehow knows its need for God. There is no perfect right prayer, or a perfect prayer discipline, there is only an honest and open heart, willing to admit to complete neediness.
"Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", were the words of a blind man asking for his sight. The pilgrims and disciples that led the way for Jesus tried to get this blind beggar out of Jesus' way. It always surprises me, how quickly our religious fervor can turn into judgment and exclusion of others, especially when folks are in the presence of Christ. This judgment and exclusion did not deter him.
And Jesus stopped, asked the blind beggar what he wanted, and healed him right there on the spot. The blind beggar's heart was honest and open about his need. His need became his joy and he followed Jesus. His simple prayer became the road to his salvation. His witness, his story became a point of transformation for many.
Today, I want to remember that God asks for my heart to be open in every moment, even when I want to run away and hide my scars and my need. No prayer is too simple for God, no hurt to foolish for God to repair, and no broken place too ugly for God's healing. Today, I want to live without the shame and embarrassment of being human and instead live honestly and prayerfully before God. I want to live today remembering that God is not far off but right here in our midst. May we all rejoice with the blind beggar, that Jesus is willing to stop by us, lean in and ask us what we need. Jesus is wiling and ready to heal us, and is not kept back by any crowd, management team or religious leadership. May we all have the courage today not to hide our failure and shattered dreams but to offer them up to God.