The Jesus Prayer -What it is not: Psychology

December 29, 2007


3. What it is not: Psychology

This prayer is not merely subjective, like a psychological device, any more than it is merely objective, like magic. It is not a sort of Christian yoga. It is not meditation. Its purpose is not to transform our consciousness and make us mystics, or to bring inner peace, or to centre on our own heart. Whether these things are good or bad, these things are not what this prayer is for.

For all these things are subjective, inside the human soul; but this prayer is dialogue, relationship, reaching out to another person, to Jesus, God made man, invoking him as your saviour, lover, lord, and God. You have faith and hope in him as your saviour; you love him as your lover; you obey him as your lord; you adore him as your God.

In this prayer our attention is not directed inward, into our own consciousness, but only out onto Jesus. Even when we address Jesus living in our own soul, he is not self but other; he is Lord of the self.

Yet, although our intention in this prayer is not to transform our consciousness, this prayer does transform our consciousness. How? It unifies it. Our usual consciousness is like an unruly, stormy sea, or like a flock of chattering monkeys, or a cage of butterflies, or a hundred little bouncing balls of mercury spilled from a fever thermometer. We cannot gather it together. Only God can, for God is the Logos. One of the meanings of this incredibly rich word in ancient Greek, the word given to the eternal, divine, pre-incarnate Christ, is “gathering-into-one”. When we pray this prayer and invoke Jesus the Logos, Jesus the Logos acts and does in fact unify our consciousness. But this is not what we aim at; we aim at him. The unification of our consciousness happens in us (slowly and subtly and sweetly) only when we forget ourselves in him. This is one of the ways “he who loses his self shall find it.”

Repetition of the holy name conditions our unconscious mind to see this name as normal, as central, and to expect him to be present and active, as a dog is conditioned by his master to see its master as central and to expect its master to be present and active. Do we train our dogs but not our own unconscious minds?

You may object, “But this sounds like a magic spell or a mantra: something not rational.” In a sense it is (though not in the sense repudiated above). Do you not know that black magic can be overcome only by white magic, not by reason? And our culture’s secularism and materialism is a powerful spell of black magic. It makes us judge Jesus by its standards instead of judging it by his standards, because it makes us see Jesus as abnormal and our culture as normal; to see Jesus as a questionable, tiny thing surrounded by an unquestionable, greater thing, namely, our culture. This is a cosmic illusion! Invoking the holy name builds up resistance to that illusion. That is not black magic; it is not itself an illusion but sheer realism. Jesus is everywhere and everywhere and the ultimate meaning of everything. This prayer in deed conditions us, but it conditions us to know reality.