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The Jesus Prayer – What it is not: Magic

December 29, 2007

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2. What it is not: Magic

Like any prayer, it “works”, not by the power of some impersonal magic but by the power of personal faith and hope and love. It is like a sacrament in that way: it “works” objectively (ex opere operato), by the power of God’s action, not ours; but it does not “work” without our free choice. It is like turning on a hose: the water comes to us, not from us, but it comes only when we choose to let it through.

The mere pronunciation of the name “Jesus” is not invoking him and is not prayer. A parrot could do that. God does not deal in magic, because magic bypasses the soul, especially the heart; it is like a machine. But God is a lover, and he wants our hearts, wants to transform our hearts, wants to live in our hearts.

Love is its own end. Magic, like technology, is always used as a means to some greater end. If you pray this prayer as a means, as a kind of magic or spiritual technology, then you are using it as you would use a machine or magic spell. What you love and desire is the higher end, the thing that the machine or magic spell gets you. But whatever that thing is, the love of things—of God’s gifts instead of God—does not bring God closer; it pushes him farther away. So using this prayer as a kind of magic does exactly the opposite of what prayer is supposed to do.

When you pray this prayer, do not concentrate on the name, the word, the sound, or the letters. Do not think of the name but of Jesus. And do not try to meditate on scenes from the Gospels or truths from theology, or to imagine what Jesus looks like, as you do in some other forms of prayer. Just reach out to Jesus in blind faith. “The principal thing is to stand before God with the mind in the heart, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life” (Bishop Theophan, quoted by Kallistos Ware in The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality).

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