Friday Book Review: Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer

I began reading Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: experiencing the presence of God and a pilgrimage to the heart of an ancient spirituality as part of my Lenten practice. I've been very curious about the origination and practice of the short, simple sentence that comprises the Jesus Prayer:

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

This sentence--this simple, beautiful prayer--has been a lifeline to me. Even for someone like myself for whom words come easily, praying extemporaneously is very difficult for me. This written prayer has become a way for me to "pray without ceasing"--I say this prayer constantly through out my day.

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer reads like a travelogue through ancient Christianity. Norris Chumley--an Emmy Award-winning executive producer--takes us through monasteries in Egypt, Romania, Russia and demonstrates how this one, simple prayer has reverberated across time and space, shaping and enhancing the prayer lives of monks, nuns, patriarchs and hermits.

This book functions as a sort of companion guide to the movie Chumley made about the Jesus prayer. Reading the book made me want to watch the movie--I haven't seen it yet!

To be honest, there were a couple times when the book dragged a bit; ie. my appreciation for the Jesus Prayer wasn't necessarily enhanced by reading about all the phone calls, waivers, grants and permissions that were necessary in order to procure access to these reclusive monasteries. At one point I was like: I get it! I get it! These reclusive hermits are....reclusive hermits!

However, if you can get past these parts, the history and the pictures are well worth it. There was one section in the book that really astonished and inspired me. It was about some underground caves and catacombs in Kiev, Ukraine that are filled with the bones of Christian martyrs and monks. The devotion and reverence these hermits had for a life of prayer was truly astonishing--and inspiring.

I was also deeply moved by the gentle wisdom and beautiful humility of the monks and nuns the production team met along the way. I was especially touched by the answer one of the nuns gave about how God felt in her heart:

God is love. God is quietness. God is peace; and if I feel love and peace in my heart, I know that I am close to God. --Sister Angelina of the Pokrovsky Monastery, Kiev.

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is available wherever books are sold.