Janet Backman welcomes a simple introduction to a simple prayer that might just change your life
USING THE JESUS PRAYER
Steps to a Simpler Christian Life
BRF, 112pp, pbk
978 1841017785, £6.99
‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. These twelve small words have resonated through the centuries and continue today to transform the lives of those who take the words to themselves and let the Jesus Prayer become the silent soundtrack to their lives.
In this semi-autobiographical guide, John Twisleton gently introduces us to the Jesus Prayer, considers briefly the history and impact of the prayer, and gives some preliminary suggestions of how best to use it. But perhaps best of all, he lets us catch glimpses of the effect the Prayer has had on his own life, ministry and discipleship. This is the sense in which the book contains hints of autobiography: not that we are presented with the continuous narrative of a life story, but because we are shown something of the power of the Jesus Prayer to transform lives. So we are offered snapshots of the author at his computer, dealing with difficult emails; at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, joining in the debate; in a crowded shopping centre, praying for those around him; praying the Rosary (which is both similar to the Jesus Prayer in that it makes use of repetition for a deeper purpose, and different in that the Jesus Prayer can become a constant background to life whereas the Rosary is prayed at particular times and usually with particular intentions). Through all of these aspects of life, and many others, the Jesus Prayer shines through as the way in which Fr Twisleton links his life of prayer to life in the wider world. The Jesus Prayer is, he says, both ‘a gift on offer and a task invited’, and is one way of fulfilling the biblical command to ‘pray without ceasing’. It is a bridge between times of prayer and the rest of life, a ‘centring on what matters here and now’, a ‘precis of the Eucharist’, and a ‘God-given connector and simplifier’ between the various strands of Christian life and discipleship. It is also ‘a counter to all the base aspirations in me’.
John Twisleton – a regular contributor to these pages – describes himself ending up as ‘a strange mixture of catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal and Orthodox’. He is, therefore, a well-qualified guide to a prayer which is at one and the same time both immensely simple, and also incredibly deep and profound if used properly. The author himself had known of the prayer for many years, and used it periodically, before receiving it as a gift from God seven years ago and slowly allowing it to transform his life. The breadth of his own experience enables him to explore freely the value and potential uses of the Jesus Prayer, without ever succumbing to the liberal temptation to use it as a substitute for the other aspects of Christian living. The Jesus Prayer is not a quick fix, he insists. It cannot be separated from the corporate life of the Church, most especially the regular celebration of the Sacraments and the preaching of the Word.
In addition to the way in which Fr Twisleton approaches the Jesus Prayer itself, I found much else of value in this book, and most of it stems from the staunch Catholic foundations which undergird the length, breadth, depth and height of his wide experience. There is, for example, his definition of the word ‘catholic’ itself. It stems from a Greek word meaning ‘according to the whole’, and so looks to wholeness in the sense of what is believed by the universal Church both today and through the ages. It also stresses inclusivity – but not in the sense that the liberal establishment of the Church of England would have us believe. Here is a wonderful definition of inclusivity, which will stand The Society in good stead as it establishes itself in the new order that is to come: inclusivity means ‘the whole gospel held by the whole church to be communicated to the whole world’.
In his introduction, Fr Twisleton also offers a thought which deserves to be inscribed upon the little electronic voting machines wielded by General Synod members, and on the desks of those who sit in offices writing reports about ‘managing talent’: ‘there is nothing new in Christianity, just the need to enter the day-by-day newness of Jesus’. We might say something similar about Using the Jesus Prayer. This is not a volume of new teaching or radical theology. It is a book which seeks to open up the gifts and treasures of an ancient wisdom, and encourage a new generation to make use of them. It is immensely readable and full of goodness. As Bishop Martin Warner says in his introduction of the Jesus Prayer itself: ‘In a 24/7 age that never rests, this is an any-time, any-place prayer for any person’. ND