Book Review: The Jesus Prayer
Author: John Michael Talbot
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835775
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Just twelve words and yet they are packed with the power to transform lives. In fact, the words contained in this Jesus Prayer have been instrumental in transforming hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of lives in the Christian tradition. I have been one of those lives and John Michael Talbot has been as well. Here, in this little book, Talbot shares the history behind the prayer and he also shares layers of understanding with the deep and gifted wisdom of a seasoned teacher.
He begins this book with an introduction explaining some of his own testimony to serve as a backdrop for his experience with the Jesus Prayer. I found a kindred soul and similarities with my own spiritual journey and awakening when reading the following words from his introduction:
“I encountered the Jesus Prayer early on in a book called The Way of the Pilgrim. I was also reading Thomas Merton’s books and others like the Imitation of Christ and The Cloud of Unknowing. I was reading monastic sources like ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’ and various Franciscan books. I was then led to the Philokalia, or ‘the study of the beautiful,’ which is a collection of sources from the Christian East.” (p.10)
I find it intriguing, in a divinely coincidental way, that I was introduced to all these same writings and sources as I was being drawn to a closer relationship with Christ Jesus…most of all, I found it encouraging and affirming.
Talbot also patiently explains in the introduction the holistic nature of the Jesus Prayer in which it is not relegated to words only, but encompasses engagement of the breathing, the intellect, the physical dimensions of the person praying, and a deeply spiritual connection. In essence, the Jesus Prayer connects the pray-er to loving, relating, communing with God in a way that is all the heart, all the soul, all the mind, and all the strength.
Through the course of the remaining Ten Chapters, John Michael Talbot unpacks the Jesus Prayer word by word and line by line. While some readers might find this subjective, and possibly repetitive, I found that it deepens my reflection while engaging the prayer. Taking the time to slow down and allow each of the words of the prayer to act as a steeping solution for my soul. I think I will never be able to rush through the prayer as I have gained beautiful insight helpful in gaining a fuller perspective of the prayer. And this brings me to another important point, in the conclusion Talbot points out the often over-looked aspect of community in the Christian journey. This is especially true in matters of deepening spiritual maturity where the follower of Christ can benefit greatly from a more mature follower. Talbot writes as follows:
“In the Christian East the role of the spiritual father and mother is seen as essential to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. In the West we call them spiritual directors, but they are different in character and tone…”
“In the East they say that it is really not enough to read books about spiritual life or the Jesus Prayer. You must also have a spiritual father or mother as a guide. But they also caution (as do the masters of the West) that a bad spiritual director is worse than no spiritual director.” (p.133)
I think these points cannot be made strongly enough. I know my spiritual life floundered for years for lacking proper spiritual guidance and support.
This little book is a fabulous resource and helpful in developing a better understanding and practice of this wonderful Prayer. Talbot also includes a great bibliography and suggested reading list pointing any eager reader to deeper study. I’m ranking the Jesus Prayer with 5-stars and will recommend it heartily to friends and students.
For video of John Michael Talbot teaching the Jesus Prayer: