Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Book Review of Praying the Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Praying the Jesus Prayer
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Reviewed by Clint Walker
This year Paraclete Press has put out a little book called Praying the Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green. It is more of a pamplet really. The entire text is only 56 pages plus notes. When you order the book you will get a package of 5 of them, perfectly designed for a prayer or study group seeking to understand this text.
I think you find that if you order this book, you will read through it over and over again. Especially if you are in any way interested in contemplative spirituality from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, or if you are more specifically interested in understanding the Jesus Prayer.The Jesus prayer is a sentence prayer, drawn from Scripture, that a person prays repeatedly. Specifically, the words of the Jesus Prayer are, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner". This is most specifically drawn from the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
This book is designed to be a primer to the Jesus Prayer, and to a lesser extent Orthodox Spirituality as a whole. Green has written a book with the same title that is much longer and more in depth.
There are several things that make the book an asset for persons interested in meaningful prayer life. Green is skilled at bringing concepts in Orthodox spirituality that come to bear on the Jesus Prayer down to earth. For existence, her discussion of "the little radio" in one's head that allows one to develop spiritual conscientiousness and understanding is brilliant. Relatedly, her discussion of the Orthodox concept of the "nous" is very helpful to prayer novices and prayer scholars alike.
Also refreshing is Mathewes-Green's exhortation on how to prepare one's heart and life to pray effectively. She is aware that some spiritual consumers view any kind of prayer as one more technique on the market place to gain an experience of a sense of divine power. She eschews this mentality, and asks her readers to truly become serious about growing closer to God before praying the Jesus Prayer in earnest.
Over and over again, in this short book, Mathewes-Green shows profound insight about her own tradition from the perspective of an outsider, and of the human condition and its fraility and inability to pray well. She also is down to earth, and Mathewes-Green clearly communicates in a way that people can understand and believe that the way she has found is possible for others. What a good book!