From The Heart

Recently, in rereading the Wikipedia entry for Hesychasm, a mystical tradition of prayer within Orthodox Christianity, I came across a phrase that caught me off-guard.


In solitude and retirement, the Hesychast repeats the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” The Hesychast prays the Jesus Prayer ‘with the heart’—with meaning, with intent, ‘for real’ (see ontic). He never treats the Jesus Prayer as a string of syllables whose ‘surface’ or overt verbal meaning is secondary or unimportant. He considers bare repetition of the Jesus Prayer as a mere string of syllables, perhaps with a ‘mystical’ inner meaning beyond the overt verbal meaning, to be worthless or even dangerous. This emphasis on the actual, real invocation of Jesus Christ mirrors an Eastern understanding of mantra in that physical action/voice and meaning are utterly inseparable.


As someone who has spent a great deal of time over the past few years chanting mantras (japa), I am reminded of how often I have let my focus slip away from the heart, drowning out the chatter of my mind with the alienness of Sanskrit mantras I chant in devotion to the gods.


I have indeed treated the mantras as ‘a string of syllables’.


Other than the gods, I have had no gurus. My daily rituals and spiritual practice (sadhana) is cobbled together from things that I have read. As I recite often in front of the Lord during my morning puja, “Lord, I do not know how to worship you correctly. Please forgive any mistakes, or anything I have done incorrectly in my worship.”


Since reading the passage, I have tried to apply it to my worship and I do feel a deeper sense of devotion. It’s difficult, though. I remember mornings in the past where I just wasn’t feeling a sense of devotion. I just wanted to get through my morning worship like it was a chore. I sped through that japa. What does this accomplish? Will Lord Ganapati be pleased that I go through the special time I set aside to be with Him as merely a chore to get through? Certainly not. It does nothing for me.


Why do it at all if I am not doing it with devotion and attention.


That said, a lack of devotion isn’t an excuse to simply not do it at all.


It takes discipline to keep one’s mind or one’s heart focused on devotion…focused on one’s personal god or goddess. Your mind will wander. I know mine does.


The effort is the important part. If you do it just to say you’ve done it, why do it? But if you do it, and you try…and you just can’t help your mind from wandering, that’s OK. Don’t get angry. Don’t quit.


Just mentally stop yourself, center yourself in a feeling of peace and surrender, and pick up where you left off.
The goal in worship is never perfection. We cannot be perfect. It is not a contest or a demonstration of skill. It is a way to spend time with your Beloved.

~ by R.M. McGrath on 03/24/2017.

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