Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

This ancient prayer was made for today! The prayer that helped transform the timeless lives of the desert monks is the perfect prayer for our time-constrained, 24/7 society. The prayer does not require special equipment, a specific amount of time, a particular posture, a certain icon, special knowledge. There are no restraints; it is a prayer for all times and places.

The desert monks understood this prayer as the fulfillment of St. Paul’s command to pray continuously. Once we start the prayer, whether in the middle of the night before the light of one vigil light, in the 5 minutes of peace between the time we wake up and the time we have to get out of bed, in those moments of mental disengagement when we are stopped at a stop light or standing in line at the grocery store, when we are cut off on the highway or stuck behind a slow driver, in those last moments before sleep brings the day to an end, it begins to infiltrate our thoughts. Suddenly we find the Prayer popping up in our mind unbidden; the habit of saying the prayer becomes ingrained and part of our lfe.

The Jesus Prayer also becomes a moment of judgment. As the Prayer becomes part of the fabric of our life, that other part of the fabric, sin, begins to stand out glaringly as something that does not belong. If we are true to the Prayer, our attachments to sinful habits begin to seem out of place; we cannot continue to say the Prayer and to sin. The Prayer gradually pushes us to repentance and an avoidance of sin.

Although you do not need any special equipment to say the Jesus Prayer, and, if you need to count the prayers, you can always use your own God-given counting machine–your fingers, it is traditional to use a Prayer Rope in order to keep the mind concentrated and to keep track of the number of repetitions.

Like all of the physical aspects of our faith, the Prayer Rope is not only a practical thing; it also manifests the reality of the spiritual life and its struggles. The knots which make up the Prayer Rope are not randomly made, but follow a specific traditonal rule for knotting the rope. The process is complex and difficult like the struggles of the spiritual life. Some knots come very easily, some knots present difficulties; some days in our spiritual struggle make us think that we have made swift progress towards theosis, but some days are more like wandering through the heat of the desert. And some knots simply go wrong; these knots have to be painstakingly undone and then begun again. This is an image of the repentance that is always available when we fail on the spiritual path. When the Prayer Rope is made by someone adept at the art, all the knots look uniform. However, on closer inspection we find that each knot is unique; some are perfectly made, others are a little irregular, others may have a bit of wool sticking out of the knot. But all the knots are part of the Prayer and all of them contribute to our spiritual progress. In the same way, we are all members of the Body of Christ, even if we are at different places in our spiritual journey. We are all journeying together, encouraging one another to go on farther.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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