The Jesus Prayer…Abbreviated?

Years ago I learned something called “the Jesus Prayer,” that goes like this:

Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Have mercy on me
A sinner.

I found it in a book called A Dresser of Sycamore Trees, by Garrett Keizer, in a chapter where he tells a story about a man who mumbled the Jesus prayer all the time under his breath.  That man may have come from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, where the prayer is often repeated continually as part of a personal ascetic practice.  Although it has never been widely accepted among Roman Catholics, it reminds me of the “Hail Mary” you often hear in that tradition:

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

The closing lines of the Hail Mary are these: 

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

It’s that line about the “hour of our death” that got me thinking. 

Suppose the Jesus prayer is one that some people mumble continually because they don’t know when the hour of their death will come and they’re trying to be ready.  Wouldn’t you love to think that those words would be on your lips in that hour, so that when you looked up and saw the 18-wheeler coming straight toward you on the interstate you would continue to say (though with a bit more urgency), “Jesus Christ!  Son of God!  Have mercy on me a sinner!”  Wouldn’t that pretty much get you a free pass into Heaven?

So, that’s what I’m thinking today: that there may be some people who have been practicing that prayer for years, trying to make it such a regular part of their life that it will be the first thing they say in the hour of their death.  And I’m thinking that sometimes (when they are startled by a loud noise for instance), they might shout out the first part of the prayer almost as a reflex, and they might be so startled they forget to say the rest of it.  Their children might grow up thinking that’s just what you say when you almost get hit by a truck—“Jesus Christ!”—without knowing that there’s more to the prayer.  So, the next time I hear someone yell the first part of the Jesus prayer I’m just going to finish it for him, quietly, under my breath: 

Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Have mercy on that
Poor sinner.

7 thoughts on “The Jesus Prayer…Abbreviated?

  1. Jim,

    Having just attended the funeral of my mother-in-law, your blog today had particular resonance with me. It had been a long time since my mother-in-law would have been able to utter either: “Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” or “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”, but I feel assured that those words, or words similar to those, were in her heart when she died. When she was able to utter either one and, being the good Pentecostal Holiness woman she was, she most likely would have uttered the latter rather than the former.

    Though I continue to have a lot of questions regarding religion and spirituality, my mother-in-law and my mother, who died in May 2008, were quite certain about their religious beliefs. They were quite certain of their salvation and that when they died they would be welcomed into Heaven by their Lord Jesus and that they would be reunited with the loved ones who had gone on before them. It does not matter what anybody else might think. That is what they believed and that is all that is important. It was that belief that helped them to deal with the troubles that came their way. It was what helped them to deal with the losses that they had to endure in their lives. In time of grief, it was the thing that kept them going. They truly believed that a reward awaited them after their death and if anyone deserved a reward it was my mother-in-law and my mother. Considering I am talking about my mother-in-law and my mother, I guess one can say that I am biased, but I truly believe that about these two women, especially my mother-in-law. Fortunately, my mother did not have to suffer too long before she died, but my mother-in-law’s suffering went on many many years. During this lengthy time of suffering, I could not help but wonder why God allowed her to go through what she was going through. She certainly did not deserve what she had to endure and why couldn’t God take her home and let her finally have some peace. My sister-in-law, who provided the care for my mother-in-law, was sure that God would take her mother when he was ready and that we should not try to interfere with his time table. For whatever reason God did not choose to take my mother-in-law home until this past Saturday. I am not that much of a Biblical scholar, but I am familiar with the verse in the Bible that states that now we see things through a glass darkly but that at some time in the future we will be able to see things as they truly are. Therefore, there may be a time in the future when I will understand why things have happened like they have. Until that time, I guess that I will just have to keep questioning why things happen in the way they do. Believe me, I have no problem questioning things that I do not understand and I believe that God has no problem with me questioning things. Because if he had not wanted me to question things I do not understand he would not have given me a mind with which to question and I do not believe that he would want me to waste a perfectly good mind.

    In closing, I would like to say that at the hour of their deaths my mother-in-law and my mother were not able to verbalize their desire that God have mercy on them. At their time of death that desire was such a part of them that they did not have to verbalize anything. They believed that God had already had mercy on them, that he had forgiven them of their sins, and that he awaited them just on the other side of that veil that separates the living from those who have died. Regardless of whatever anyone else might believe about the last moments of anyone’s life, my mother-in-law and mother believed that the last moments of this life were just a prelude to life eternal. That belief was what would have given them the grace to face death and pass from this life to the next. Even if it had been possible, I would not have taken that peace and comfort away from them for anything in this world and I would not have wanted to try and pull them back into this world because I would not have wanted to delay them from achieving that peace and comfort that they so richly deserved. Like I celebrated for my mother back in May 2008 when she died, today I am celebrating for my mother-in-law because she is no longer having to endure the pain and grief of this world.

    Take care and best wishes to you, Christy, and the rest of your family.

    Ron Smith

  2. Here are the thoughts that ran through my mind when reading, “Wow, what a creative imagination! What HAS he been smoking! And, finally, Jim needs to read Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw. He is one of those minor geniuses that Gladwell writes about! Thanks for just laying your mind out there. I will think of this post every time I hear someone curse!

  3. To Ron Smith, I extend my deep sympathy. I am sorry that I did not get to meet your mother or mother in law here upon earth, however, I look forward to meeting them in heaven. Just as, I am sure, they were a blessing to you, I am sure that you were a blessing to them. May God grant you and your family peace until you are reunited with them.

    To the good folks at “dortchcamp”, see, it’s not what Jim has been smoking! It’s probably all that Starbucks coffee Jim drinks! Same thing happens to me after I drink all the Diet Coke I consume! Anyway, I don’t know about “What the Dog Saw”, I just know about what my cat (a fuzzy furball) “Erin” feels. He starts acting weird, at times, and when he does, usually an earthquake has taken place somewhere in the world. I don’t know what Erin says, when he starts meowing when he feels an earthquake, however, maybe, if cats can pray, he is offering up his own prayers to our Creator!

    Speaking of mothers and voices and prayers, a week ago, as I write this, after teaching a Bible class she teaches, my sister Laura came home to our family home, in Bristol, Tennessee, where she found that our mother, Mrs. Fay Buckles, had experienced a “stroke”(cerebral vascular accident). At the local hospital, we were initially discouraged when physicians predicted a significant time in the hospital for Mom and some time in a rehab facility after that. Of course, our prayers went up and we asked others for prayer as well. Now, a week later, we have been totally amazed that Mom is back home, a bit weak but clear minded and able to move around. She just suffers a mild speech impediment for which she will receive outpatient treatment. God has been so very good to us and I praise and thank Him!

  4. To Marshall Buckles, I am sorry to hear that your mother suffered a stroke, but I am glad to hear that she was able to go home and that she is doing better than was expected by the doctors. I hope that she will continue to do well and that she will be able to recover fully from the stroke.

    As far as Erin the cat is concerned, I do not think that we humans give our animals enough credit for the senses that God gave them.

  5. I have memorized, and repeat daily, both prayers and praises, against the day when a still active brain might be trapped in a non-responsive body.

  6. Len,

    It’s good that you have learned the prayers and say them often, I just want to assure you that even if ,heaven forbid, you are trapped in an unresponsive body you will never be severed from God. When you give your life to Jesus Christ you are sealed for eternity by the Holy Spirit. That bond and presence will never be broken.

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