When I think of mercy, I think of the Jesus Prayer.
My mom went back to work when I was a teenager, after several years at home with four kids. She started in retail at a big department store while working on some Spanish teaching certifications. Knowing how thoughtful she was, I asked her if she could stand folding sweaters and rehanging dresses all day. She said she didn’t mind it actually, and that it was a good time to use the Jesus Prayer. I learned it that day, and have never forgotten it.
The Jesus Prayer was first recorded in The Way of the Pilgrim about a 19th century Russian peasant who wanted to discover the way to “pray unceasingly” as Paul commanded. As he walked the Ukrainian countryside, he chanted what has become known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
The version my mom taught me is known as the Efche for Eastern Orthodox Christians: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” All variations are based on the cries for mercy from two very different men in Luke 18 – a tax collector and a blind beggar.
That’s one thing I love about the Jesus Prayer: it’s true for everyone, all the time.
Whether we benefit from the system or are outside it, whether we’re connected or not, rich, poor, or somewhere in between, the Jesus Prayer speaks truth to power and to our own souls. Its truth is not only that God is God and we are not, but also that God is good, and that we are dependent.
I find myself praying it while at work, in lines, in bed when I can’t sleep, and for other people that are in need of God’s comfort or healing.
In line for the Free Baby & Kids Goods Exchange at my church Circle of Hope in Philadelphia
I use it as a breath prayer, inhaling “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and exhaling “have mercy on me, a sinner.”
As a breath prayer, it’s naturally calming, helping me to be in my body, release my mind from its laps, and make the connection between my oxygen intake and God’s own dedication. I have also found that it’s like a spiritual GPS for me, the inhale establishing my longitude, and the exhale my latitude, helping me awaken to reality – where I am, whose I am, and what’s happening in and around me.
I’ve had friends wonder if the repetition of “sinner” would feel depressing over time, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. For me, the beginning of the prayer is so dignifying – just being able to remember, at any moment in any kind of day, that there is a Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, who is my Lord, who I am relating to. Asking Christ to have mercy on me, a sinner, then just feels honest and relieving to confess.
I believe that my capacity to extend mercy to others is inextricably related to how well I’m able to internalize my own need for God’s mercy and also consciously receive it. That’s why the topic of mercy makes me think of this ancient prayer, because it has turned seemingly mundane activities, as well as moments of crisis, into opportunities to recognize the delicacy of my existence, and therefore, of everyone else’s too.
My friends and I on the Sickle Cell walk
Author: Vanessa Caruso, M.A., lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband Steven and their son, Leo. She has been modeling for 10 years, and is very involved in her local church, Circle of Hope, and the grassroots non-profit, Heads Together Haiti. Vanessa was part of CenterQuest’s inaugural cohort, and as a new spiritual director, she is most interested in preparing and protecting a place where realization, inspiration, and healing can take place between a person and a good God.