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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer

From Head to Heart

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart.  
—St. Symeon the New Theologian 

CAC teacher James Finley continues to reflect on St. Symeon’s instructions for praying the Jesus Prayer:  

St. Symeon instructs us to “shut your eyes” when praying the Jesus Prayer. What if we could all close our eyes right now and be interiorly awakened? And what if, when we open our eyes, we would see through our own awakened eyes what Jesus saw in all that he saw? What would we see? We’d see God! Because Jesus saw God in all that he saw.  

What’s wonderful about this is that it didn’t matter whether Jesus saw his own mother or a prostitute, the joy of those gathered at a wedding or the sorrow of those gathered at the burial of a loved one. It didn’t matter whether he saw his disciples or his executioners, or a bird or a tree—Jesus saw God in all that he saw. Jesus tells us, “You have eyes to see but you do not see” (Mark 8:18). You have not learned to awaken to your God-given capacity to see the God-given, godly nature of yourselves, others, and all things. This is the source of all your sorrow and confusion. Our prayer then becomes, “Lord, that I might see your presence presencing itself and giving itself away as the intimate immediacy of the grace and miracle of our very presence and of all things in our communal nothingness without you. Help us to understand that the generosity of the Infinite is infinite and that we are the generosity of God. We are the song you sing.”  

St. Symeon tells us, “Imagine yourself looking into your own heart.” We’re looking into our own hearts not only as the center of emotions, but as the very place where the ongoing, self-donating presence of God, and us in our nothingness without God, are pouring out and touching each other. In our heart there is this oneness….  

Next, “Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart.” We learn to settle into the transformative energies of the prayer by being quietly absorbed in the deepening communion with God by doing our best not to be carried off by the thoughts that arise and fall around the edges of our minds. Each time we realize we have been carried off into thinking, we return to the words of the prayer as a way of renewing our trust in God’s merciful love…. In this way, we make our descent into the realm of the heart where our own presence is realized to be eternally one with the mercy of God revealed to us in Christ. Little by little, we begin to realize that our deepening experience of learning to rest in the realm of heart … is beginning to show up in all sorts of unexpected ways, in each passing moment of our lives, up to and including the moment of our death and beyond.   

Adapted from James Finley and Kirsten Oates, “The Way of a Pilgrim: Session 3,” Turning to the Mystics, season 9, ep. 6 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2024), podcast. Available as MP3 audio download and PDF transcript. 

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:  

This morning, I sat in my quiet time and started to focus on my beloved family and friends. For a brief time, I had an overwhelming sense of nondualistic understanding. I know that this experience can be a way I approach my life each day through practice and God’s grace. It was a good place to be.  
—Catherine N. 

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