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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Way of a Pilgrim

As much as this may look like a book review. It is not. I had so many different ideas for titles, like "The Interior Life" or simply, "My Journey". I hope this gives you a sense of how important these few paragraphs below are to me. And realize how life-changing the practices and the ideas in this note can be.

In one sentence can cut the light into the darkness, the calmness into the storm, the place of comfort into the place of suffering, if focused on enough. The book, "The Way of a Pilgrim" is a book written by an anonymous Russian peasant who undertakes the spiritual journey of searching out exactly what the heart of prayer is about.

He is taught the phrase, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." by an ancient priest of the Orthodox faith, and is told to say it over and over again; when he is eating; when he is bathing; when he is about to drift off to sleep; when he is getting up in the mornings; when he is walking alone; when he is sitting in the company of others, the priest instructs the peasant into wearing this sentence on the tip of his tongue, having it ever living in his heart, and resounding in his head. The peasant does this one deed. Repeating, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", as many times as he possibly can in one day. When alone, he says it aloud, but when in company, he quietly processes the sentences again and again until it forms almost a backdrop to all the menial tasks he does each day. Or maybe all the menial tasks forms a backdrop to this one repeating prayer. The autobiography goes on to describe his own transformation with this one repetitious prayer.

After reading this book last December, I thought I'd try it. Even though, not being one given to discipline nor repetition, I found something wholly inviting about this prayer technique. And the more I made my mind run over every single word, the more, I wanted to repeat it. I noticed, in a very real sense, it breathed a new life into me. It was as though I was breathing with a whole new pair of lungs. Naturally, crabby and irritable at times, and every now and then downright hellbent angry or overcome with melancholy, the prayer opened my heart to a new sense of peace that I rarely find. The things that upset me before had lost their chain on me, and though I could inwardly observe their occurance, I could feel the shackles fall off.

Humility became an utmost virtue, of which, I saw more and more often. And in truth the more, I said the prayer, the more I realized the unimportance of my own ego. I began to realize just how full of vanity half my thoughts were...and just how important God is.

Then there was the change in which I saw people. Half of the time, let me be honest, random strangers annoy me. Whether in a car, or at my job at the time, I had a very minimum amount of regard for any of the nameless crowd. It's not as though I was about treading on others, to get what I want; it was more about the avoiding the need of others, so that I can protect what little I do have, or at least wish to have. And perhaps, nothing is more annoying than strangers always seeming to get in the way of my self-absorption. Let me be absorbed with my self, let others be absorbed with me also, but me being absorbed into others, especially strangers....such a feat is not very possible because I like to dwell on myself much too often for that.

But all of a sudden, with the passionate practice of saying this one phrase over and over again, I began to look at all that faceless, nameless crowd, who always seems to get in front of me in check out lines with 50 billion items, and see them as real people. I recall even feeling compassion well up in some cases, as I would see them busy about their busy little worlds. And I could actually stop the roaring cogwheels in my own head and think that this was all very marvelous. -And such beautiful people; I felt as though I loved them though I knew nothing about them.

What rest I found at that time, for most of the time my soul feels so unsettled. As though, I am always missing something. And for some quizzical reason nothing seems to have it. The laughter with the old friends doesn't completely possess it, nor does the compliment, nor the ice cream. Neither does travel exactly hold it either, nor Led Zeppelin. And as far I can remember the ravishing sunshine, and the kisses from girls' lips, they didn't exactly sum it all up. I couldn't find it all hiding in the lines of Keats, the ocean, or in a glass of sweet tea. All these were close, but they still lacked something, as though they are the reaching for that something, and maybe that's why these things are so wonderful...they are the reach.

But with this constant prayer, a continual breathing in and out of all my confessions and helplessness, and acknowlegements to God, I felt as I had settled into a recess of calmness. The frantic go, go, go...the gotta haves and gotta dos all faded as raindrops into some silver clear ocean.

Desire was kindled as well, though not any sort of razing passion that we long after so much from the things of this earth, but a deep, echoing longing that is only heard when much of our selves are stripped out of the way..and in this longing is all the scope, desire, and pangs of something more solid and more real.

If eternity is the judge of reality, then our souls are the most solid evidence of reality that we possess before us. That is why everything, all the little accoutrements, the petty trinkets, and the trite self-images are all so fleeting. We run through our tasks, our plans, our possessions like a cloud shifts through the sky. They are nothing to the soul of man....which is the stamp of greatness, even in our confined, unseeing beliefs. And who could guess that when considering the truly substantial figure of our souls, does that divine flicker hold the greatest danger of getting solely in the way, and making that heavenly spark, a smoldering hell? Yes, our very selves, our souls, when cut off from its main source become just that, a hell.

The observation keeps occurring in my mind, that we are all helplessly trying to escape from ourselves to ourselves. That all of us of the human race are consistently, and in many cases frantically, seeking for a way to get away from the cracked and broken vials that is our own selves. And we do this by, ironically, going further and further into the recesses of this shattered self, thinking that true healing and sanity for some of us, is found there. We all have our self-preservation techniques, our modes of self-survival, our vigilant strategies of self-protection that are automatically triggered to usher us into isolation and guard dog stances. Stiff-lipped humanity since long ago has been crying out,"Take my laughter, take my joy, take my peace, and take my loves, but don't take one step towards seizing my ego!" The very ugly thing that we wish to escape from we run towards hoping for it to shelter us from its own tormenting storms.

This entire grinding cycle is all halted only when a greater entity is acknowledged. Ask any adherents to an AA meeting and they will tell you the same thing. But, it is my special belief, that a simple bowing to a god intellectually, is not really the point. No, it should be an entire awareness of that God, in every little thing and in every moment. Because only then does this god become YHWH....the great "I Am". In our fragmented society we will only crown this God king in one compartment, while we attend our own horrid coronation in many other compartments, which drives us to confusion, anxieties, and discontent.

And one of the best way of sapping the Light of our Source, is in constantly meditating on certain phrases that completely ravage our selfdoms with this Light. Day in and Day out. This is what this Russian peasant from the 19th Century ended up doing. Of course, with the help of Grace, which will be delivered to us the more and more we knock and ask for it. And the phrase, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" is just that type of knocking that will be answered sooner than can be imagined. It is also a firm acknowledgement of the Highest Power, given the name that is directly accessible to all men (the Christ), while at the same time acknowledging one's helplessness. Such a phrase is power-packed to place man in his proper place in this reality, if man is to have any peace at all. And perhaps one of the very beauties of this phrase is that it combats any spiritual pride in its very utterance. For usually any great realization that one is becoming more spiritual and more prayer-filled, such self-acknowledgement produces pride. And with any true spiritual seeking, pride is perhaps the worst error to fall into. That is the wonder of this phrase, in its very deliverance are the words that if meditated on, prohibit spiritual pride from arising.

Now, a shift. Would it surprise the reader to know, that after coming to realize such truths and peace, that I drifted away from this practice and became just as lethargic and irritable and self-loving and doubting, as before, if not more? My spirit is highly attuned selfishly to certain needs. Once the Supreme Need is met, its easy for me to become complacent. So I wandered away from this blessedness. And I only just recently made it back.

I think that I'll share other phrases and thoughts that have brought me around in the next note. For the meantime, I challenge, no! I dare anybody reading this to practice this very simple prayer technique. Be prepared for a change.


Blogger thepriesthood said...

Brian, thanks for the dare. I hope to take you up on it. will get out the Jacksonian chotki in a few, and run it through my fingers once again. I too experienced the initial deep peace from the practice of the JP and soon let it slip away.

miss you, fellow pilgrim.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous the author said...

Miss you too. I'm sure you had a great time with Greg sleeping on your couch this week. I wish I could've come.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Brian, it's Christine, Jeremy's wife... I didn't realize you posted this kind of stuff, and I was amazed to read about your trip to Canada in May of ... 2005! And you even talked about our wedding. I wanted an X-men wedding, but we had a few relatives actually take us aside about it... you know, how does that show God's love, etc. Lots of love, your sister in Christ, Christine

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, this blog has been going for several years now.

I didn't know that some of your relatives took you aside about having an X-Men wedding. I thought you just both decided to have a normal, run of the mill, one. Well, maybe you can have a themed baby shower or something, when that time comes.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous the author said...

Yeah, this blog has been going for several years now.

I didn't know that some of your relatives took you aside about having an X-Men wedding. I thought you just both decided to have a normal, run of the mill, one. Well, maybe you can have a themed baby shower or something, when that time comes.

2:02 PM  

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