Monday, September 21, 2009

The Way of a Pilgrim

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way is the story of a nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox peasant who struggles with the problem of "how to pray without ceasing" after hearing a sermon. The author of the book is unknown and it is unclear whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. The peasant goes on a journey and has conversations with a number of people. Early on he learns of the Jesus Prayer and that becomes the theme of the book. The Jesus Prayer is a very simple prayer that is very popular in Eastern Christianity and becoming more popular in the West. It is an expansion of the prayer of the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14). The prayer is:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner.

Or translated more literally from the Greek:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, the sinner.

There are also some slightly shorter versions of this prayer. The pilgrim is told to repeat this prayer many times throughout the day. Some might object to this repetitive form of prayer because of what Jesus says in Matthew 6:7 but I believe that those who do so misinterpret the passage and I deal with that here. The pilgrim is instructed to sit in a quite dimly lit room to avoid distractions. He is told to focus upon his heart, inhale while saying "Lord Jesus Christ," and exhale while saying "have mercy on me." He is told to also try to say the words to the rhythm of his heartbeat. After a great deal of repetition the prayer can be said in the mind continuously throughout the day and night and even while working and sleeping. The main idea is to be constantly calling upon the name of Jesus and that's certainly a good thing. If we spend our time calling upon the name of Jesus we will be less likely to fall into sin.

The book was pretty balanced. I expected it to promote mysticism and it does sometimes but warns against extreme forms. It speaks of a period in which people after praying the Jesus Prayer tend to experience visions. The book warns against trusting in these visions and instructs the pilgrim to block them out. There are miracles associated with the Jesus Prayer but no promises of wealth. Some people are said to be set free from their alcoholism, some are able to endure torture, some are cured of diseases, and some are simply able to die peacefully.

Portions of the book do encourage the reader to ascend a mystical ladder to God and so I wouldn't recommend the book to a new believer. The prayer could also be abused and emphasis could be taken off of Christ and put on maximum recitation of the Jesus Prayer. However, if someone is firmly grounded in the truth, I think this book could be very beneficial to their prayer life.

1 comment:

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

Nice review, Chuck. I have benefitted greatly from regularly praying the Jesus Prayer or praying other portions of Scripture in a repetitive way. I also love to pray "Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief" from Mark 9.