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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer

A Prayer of Healing 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

In a teaching for the CAC’s forthcoming Living School: Essentials of Engaged Contemplation program, guest teacher Carmen Acevedo Butcher shares how she came to know and be transformed by the Jesus Prayer: 

It was the coldest winter of my entire life thus far. I was 22 and I was a student at Heidelberg University. I was lonesome and homesick, and I was also suffering and recovering from an eating disorder. Into that mix came a 79-year-old woman named Frau Sophie Buschbeck. No one was better named, since her name was Sophie, which means wisdom. Sophie was a refugee in World War II, and her husband spent five years in a Russian prison camp. He was a Lutheran minister and contemporary of the theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Sophie’s husband was writing her letters in Germany, while she was moving around the country with eight children fleeing the incoming Russian soldiers. One of my college professors and his wife sent clothing and shoes to Sophie and her eight children while they were refugees, and thus our friendship began.  

Acevedo Butcher wanted to learn German and was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Heidelberg.  

I had suffered a traumatic childhood. The abuse in my family was ongoing, and by the time I landed in Germany, I felt that I was hemorrhaging inside. I was wondering, how am I going to make this?…  

I was very tired of Christianity at that point. I could hardly read the Bible, and I certainly could not read it in English. Sophie Buschbeck at that time was a widow living alone…. She asked me to read the Bible to her in German. She didn’t know my backstory, so I read the Bible to her. I was just suffering, and she must have seen it. She took me under her wing…. One day, right before Christmas, she gave me a gift and the gift was a book entitled Das Jesusgebet (The Jesus Prayer). I still have the book. She said, “I think you would like this book,” and that’s when my love for the Jesus Prayer started. 

I was walking all over Heidelberg during that very cold winter. I came over from Georgia in the U.S. with only polyester sweaters which just would not cut it, and Sophie had to give me a wool sweater. I began to pray, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and variations of the Jesus Prayer. I said it over and over and over all day long. At the end of that time, when I went back home, all my problems were still there. I still had my own internal struggles, and I was trying to navigate my ongoing breakdown. [But] the Jesus Prayer—this constant returning to the present awareness of love—had begun to heal me. I will always be grateful for Sophie, for giving me that nudge and for being able to repeat this prayer until I could feel my soul being knit together again.   

Adapted from Carmen Acevedo Butcher, “The Jesus Prayer,” The Living School: Essentials of Engaged Contemplation, with Carmen Acevedo Butcher, Michael Petrow, and James Finley, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2024.  

Image credit and inspiration: Vlad Bagacian, woman sitting on a grey cliff (detail), 2018, photo, Romania, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. Prayer is a practice for the long road of life, remembering that we are accompanied even when we feel alone. 

Story from Our Community:  

Recently, at a prayer breakfast, I saw a little girl who wore a sleeveless dress, obviously uncomfortable in the large, air-conditioned room. As I watched the child, I had the instinct to offer her my own shawl. For whatever reason, I held back my impulse. After reading the meditations from the first week of May on Simplicity, I realized I missed an opportunity to share a simple act of kindness. I pray for heightened awareness in the future, so that I can share kind impulses more freely and openly. 
—Marilyn N. 

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