Friday, August 09, 2013

A Fine Primer Despite the Editing

I just finished a short book titled The Jesus Prayer by one Billy Kangas. It is an ebook that can be found at Feedbooks. It is 24 pages in length (though several pages are devoted to a bibliography and endnotes), and serves as a fairly good primer for the short, powerful prayer used by contemplatives the world over.

Mr. Kangas gives a nice accessible introduction to the prayer, providing information on its origins and use. While I might have wanted more history, here is just enough information to set the prayer into a clear context part of Christian trading without getting too academic. 

The prayer itself is not so much something one learns to do or say, but something one learns to incorporate into daily life, particularly for those who take seriously the biblical injunction to "pray without ceasing." Though the chapter on word meanings does not do much for me, the other chapters provide just enough information to keep interest and without bogging down the message.

My main problem with the book concerns the editing. I found several comma spices and run-on sentences, inconsistent punctuation regarding lists, a sentence fragment (not for emphasis), and the title of a book referred one way in the text and another in the notes. One or two of these mistakes are not that big a deal, but the cumulative effect is a little off-putting. 

But maybe I'm playing too much English teacher here. The book is free, so maybe I should not expect too much. I can attest to how hard it is be both writer and editor. The content is what matters, and if you are interested in contemplative prayer, this book is a useful beginning.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Meditation XXXII -- Bread of Life (5)

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

A great deal could be and probably should be written about the things Peter said. He is a spiritual Everyman whose every word seems to be rich with meaning (even when he is putting his foot in his mouth). I think I have been drawn to him because he never seems to have a filter, and often says exactly what he thinks, from his heart. No, from his very being.

Here Peter does not say to Jesus, "You say some pretty smart stuff. We think you are kind of wise. And since we know you can feed thousands of people just like that, I'm sure we are probably doing the right thing hanging out with you." He answers Jesus' question with a question: "Where else would we go?" Then he succinctly states why Jesus in their choice.

Jesus has, in the discourse that precedes this conversation, whittled down his followers from a great multitude of people looking for the great Jesus magic show and banquet to a handful of faithful who are just beginning to see the difference between a great teacher and the one and only Messiah. In another place Peter reminds Jesus that they had put everything behind them to be His disciples. Here Peter gives the reason.

Had he stopped with "You have the words of eternal life, Peter would have been calling Jesus a great teacher. "We have believed" means that those men at that moment have been convinced that Jesus is One sent by God to redeem the world. The phrase alone is merely an intellectual assent. But the words "have come to know," placed in the context of Our Lord's declaration that He is the Bread of Life, gives us insight into what Jesus was doing in the hearts of these few and faithful, and to those who do more than look upon physical face of Christ.

Jesus has become part of them, as much as they were able to take Him in. Nothing could shake The Lord out of them. Even the threat of death or the supposed reasoning of wise men and philosophers could not move the Bread of Life from their very being anymore than cutting one's hair could keep a person from walking.

When The Lord died on the cross, Peter and the disciples would be emptied almost completely of hope. But at this moment, they were satisfied. After (and because of) the resurrection, they would be filled forever.
Oh Bread of Life, fill us with Yourself. Help us to do more than see and believe. Help us to know, and to make You known. In Christ Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Meditation XXXI -- Bread Of Life (4)

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life."

When I coached young people in soccer, one of the basics I tried to instill in them was to face the ball. This is a little different from the "keep your eye on the ball" mantra for baseball players. The latter has the player focus on what the ball is doing. The former asks the player to focus on what she or he is doing in response to the ball. It works on a simple concept: where the head goes, the body will follow.

One of the hardest things to teach young soccer players is what to do when they are not near the ball. Good players know where to go and how to react when they are not directly involved in the play. Poor players find themselves watching as other teammates score or as the other team scores from where they were supposed to be.

The roads of life are overflowing with the corpses of those who made their bodies not temples, but gods. But Jesus is not just talking about the body as center of the universe, but the body as conduit for eternal life. We cannot find peace with the body alone because we then limit our search parameters to what we see and hear (and how we perceive what we see and hear) at any given time. Our spirits, on the other hand, are not limited, no matter what shape our bodies are in.

Our fleshly bodies must be trained to face Jesus. His words are spirit and life. His life is our bread. Remember that Jesus told this crowd that their ancestors ate manna -- food handed to them directly by God -- and still died. We must train our gaze, not only our fleshly ears and eyes, on the living Christ. When we do, the body will follow.

Lord Almighty, giver of all good things, feeder of hungry souls, shine your Light on us, and turn our faces to you. Amen.