New book examines The Jesus Prayer’s history and its current significance
A new book examines the history and significance of a 12-word prayer that is believed to have been prayed by the apostles.
Dr. Norris J. Chumley and the Very Rev. Dr. John McGuckin wrote the book, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality, as a companion piece to their first PBS documentary, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, according to PR Web.
The prayer is simply, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is believed to date back to the time of the apostles, and remains a popular prayer of hermits and ascetics today in desert monasteries in Eastern Europe and other areas, PR Web said.
Chumley and McGuckin visited the holy sites of the ancient Christians, visited monasteries and photographed their voyage, including rare pictures of holy places that photographers are rarely allowed to take, PR Web said.
According to its website, “Never before has there been this kind of access to ancient caves, monasteries and convents in Egypt, Greece, Eastern Europe and Russia.”
The website says that the authors met Christian monks and nuns who turned their backs on the world so that they could search for their eternal salvation. “For the first time, they speak of their private prayers of the heart on film.”
In the PBS documentary, The Jesus Prayer, Chumley and McGuckin looked into the history of the prayer, which is largely unknown in the U.S. In his blog with the Huffington Post, Chumley wrote that the ascetic or hermit life began as a social movement among ancient Christians who left behind their worldly relationships, personal crises and responsibilities to commune with God in the desert.
Chumley wrote in The Huffington Post that hermits lived completely alone in the desert but others formed tiny communities of ascetics in desert areas. St. Paul first mentioned asceticism in the New Testament (2 Tim. 4:7).
According to Chumley, asceticism became popular in the mid third to fourth centuries when it became an organized movement in the Christian faith, he wrote in the Huffington Post.
Though still practiced today, it is not widely acknowledged in light of the Reformation. Chumley wrote in Huffington Post that “There are many contemporary hermits, monks and nuns, some of them highly educated and accomplished.”
The Jesus Prayer is a cornerstone of their prayer life, Chumley and McGuckin said in their new book, according to PR Web. It was transformative and imminent to their history and practices including reflection, humility and feeling constantly connected to God by moving through the stages of the prayer, the website said.
The monasteries the authors visited include St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt’s desert, St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, and convents and monasteries in Russia, Transylvania, Greece and the Ukraine, the website said.
Shane Claiborne of the Common Prayer website commented, “This isn’t just a book about prayer. It is a full-on plunge into a prayer-filled adventure. Chumley takes you on a pilgrimage to some of the most enchanted places, and all you have to take with you is a one-line prayer that has been changing the world for centuries. Dive in.”
Diana Butler Bass of the website A People’s History of Christianity said of the book, “[Chumley] discovers a way of peace open to those who seek a deeper connection with God,” the website reported.
Chumley is an Emmy awardee whose work has appeared on various television networks including NBC, ABC and A&E, among others. He is executive producer and director of media for the Columbia University Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, PR Web said.