On the Trail as the Pilgrim: Praying the Jesus Prayer on the Journey

I recently posted regarding the week my daughter and I spent backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.  One of the things our time on the trail reminded me was how memories are made in living not watching others live.  Intentionally separating ourselves from digital communication was a renewal of personal communication.  It provided great conversation for her and I, for us and the people we met on the trail and for me, it was a chance to meet up with God in a unique way.

          In the past few years, I’ve begun changing the focus of my blog and writings toward spiritual formation.  During that time my ministry as a United Methodist pastor has been directed toward helping both churches and individuals engage in spiritual practices which help us not just speak to God but to listen to what God is speaking to us.  One of the formative elements of my journey and my teaching has been in regards to “The Jesus Prayer,” and I’ve written about it in other places.  It is a simple and profound prayer which goes, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

          On the trail, as I hiked my own hike, I prayed the Jesus Prayer and prayed other “breath prayers” over and over again (Note, a breath prayer is a prayer in the same structure as the Jesus Prayer.  It is formed by an individual addressing God regarding a particular yearning or need in one’s life).  Each step I took, each breath I took, I spoke the prayer again and again.

          The story and history of the Jesus Prayer is best told in the book, “The Way of thePilgrim.”  The tradition of the prayer comes from the Orthodox Tradition of the Church.  It is a very ecumenical prayer and though simple, is profound.  The history of the book is unknown as is the identity of the pilgrim.  The author writes,
“In the first part, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ it leads our thoughts to the life of Jesus Christ, or, as the holy Fathers put it, it si the whole gospel in brief.  In the second part, ‘Have mercy on me, a sinner,’ it faces us with the story of our own helplessness and sinfulness (pg 135).”

          With each step and with each breath, the phrases of the prayer rolled around in my mouth, in my head and in my heart.  And it was in the journey that I came to realize that the trail, the actual, physical journey opened up my soul to the work of the Spirit.  In the book, the story of the pilgrim is one of journey, of physically seeking and moving. 

Why is that important?  Maybe it was something like Saul/Paul, maybe Jesus needed to speak to him on the road.  I’m not sure but I can tell you that I experienced something on the trail I had not in prayers at home or in the sanctuary.  I could sense the Spirit pulling out of me two people, two moments in time, buried down deep who I need to make amends to.  It was at once easy and difficult but I doubt that I could have come to that place in my soul had I not been at that place on the trail.

We are a sent people not a staying people.  We are not called to rest on our laurels but in Christ Jesus.  


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