Wednesday, September 29, 2010

God Speaks to Each of Us as He Makes Us:3D Week 4

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by it's seriousness.

Give me your hand.


                    --Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Burrows and Macy


My gosh! Is it week 4 already? It seems like we've been doing this for a long time, but we have a long way to go, don't we. I have to admit. I'm woefully behind now, all my attention stolen by migraines and headaches. I knew it was really bad when I burst into tears at work and frightened my co-teacher. Fortunately it was during "Fun time" (what irony)--an indoor playground time. The children paid me no mind. My week was shaped by misery.

I've already told you about yesterday, and the message I heard as I was leaving that awful neurology clinic. This morning I awoke to a day with less pain than I've felt in weeks. I was not headache free, but it simply wasn't as bad as it has been. I went to the doctor at Kentucky clinic, and got pain medicine with nary a hitch. When I spent my bus money to fill prescriptions, a kind nurse gave me a dollar to get home. I had a lovely day at work, and for the first time in a long time someone said to me, Miss Claudia, are you losing weight? She could tell. I startled when I stepped on that same doctors scale that I stepped on and saw 204.6 lbs less than four weeks ago, and saw 195 lbs. With all this grace, I'm compelled to listen. With all the suffering, I was also compelled to listen. The good stuff just makes it a little easier. Well, a head that doesn't hurt so bad makes it easier.

Our memory verse this week is Proverbs 1:33: "But he who listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of evil." I don't know about you, but I sure do need to commit that one to memory! We are going to begin to learn to listen to our body's signals for hunger and fullness and record them. And the difference between hunger and thirst.

I must say, I'm on a new medicine, and it makes my mouth very, very dry. I feel thirsty all the time. So it will be hard to gauge real thirst. Weight loss is also a side effect of this drug. That may account for my glorious success! But I've truly been eating less, and trying to move more. It's not the most heroic effort ever, but just cutting my portion sizes, and making sure I eat small, frequent, more healthful meals has changed my life. It isn't just the medicine. In fact, the last time I took this med, I didn't lose a pound!

Anyway, here we are really being mindful as we eat, letting our meal become a contemplative, meditative experience. I wish you all could eat with my friend Terry. She has a real gift for this. I bet she makes Jesus so happy every time she feeds someone.

Okay, I'm off to my bestest friend Evette's wedding this weekend. Gotta pack. Be good to yourselves, and keep listening. I'll try to do the same.

xoxo!!!
mair

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Surrender All

So, today, with great excitement and hope, I went to a spine and brain specialist to finally get some answers, and pain management. I tried to see a rheumatologist, but oddly, they've stopped taking new patients with fibro, RA, and osteo arthritis. Uhhhhh... yeah. Anyway, the nurse practitioner I see got me the appointment with this specialist. I had visions of someone who'd take me seriously. Visions of MRI's and CAT scans danced in my heads, and answers to what is really wrong with me. And oh the pain medicine that would get me over the terrible pain I've endured for more than a month, only I get there to find this paperwork mix-up, so I had to wait about five hours to be seen, digging for change in the bottom of my purse for vending machine potato chips, and reading Mary Karr's Lit, thankful I had the presence of mind to bring my iPod. A ginormous flat screen television played sappy worship music, and scrolled scriptures across pastoral scenes. I laughed out loud at Karr's wicked sense of humor, and gasped, hand to my heart, at her startlingly beautiful, poetic prose. Despite the wait and the endless headache, hope filled me.

It struck me as odd that the paperwork asked so many questions about mental illness, especially more difficult diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder. It asked if I had a history of depression. If I had ever attempted suicide. I began to get a sinking feeling. Why is a spine and neurology clinic asking these kind of questions?

When I FINALLY saw the nurse I had to take a psychological test, which apparently I did not pass to their satisfaction. Perhaps I should have taken it when I hadn't been in pain for weeks on end. But it wouldn't have really mattered. It was my history that was the problem.  Once upon a time I was so depressed I tried to commit suicide. This is no secret. I bear visible scars.  I don't bother to hide them, or the truth about my past. This doctor saw me for three minutes tops, and deemed me unfit for any kind of narcotic, including one I was prescribed three months ago for a foot injury. He recommended physical therapy. It doesn't matter that the last time I harmed myself was fourteen years ago. The scars happened when I was twenty-seven!

When I was in my thirties I went to seminary to study psychology. I wanted to understand human behavior, especially my own, and I had to take several of those blasted psychological tests. One in particular told me I'd most likely die by my own hand within ten years. May I just say, that one kinda sucked. But I have to admit, some of those ten years were rough. I counted them down, baby, and that's a heckuva long count down. But by grace and grit I learned to choose life. Some nights, in my dark and awful winters, I hugged my arms to myself and did not move until any hint of a dangerous impulse passed. And the years moved forward, some slowly, some quickly. I am here to testify. I'm gratefully alive.

I left the clinic a little stunned; a little angry--no, a lot angry--and profoundly disappointed. It wasn't about the medicine. It was about being dismissed, once again, for a past I've done a lot of work to overcome. And besides, don't treat me like I'm crazy. That ain't the name I answer to any more.

Heavy-hearted I trudged back into the waiting room as joyless as a deflated balloon. I Surrender All drifted from the television. I shook my aching, throbbing head, knowing who I was supposed to surrender to, but having no idea exactly what he was after.

How do you surrender all? Does it mean you don't go to the doctor anymore?

I have no idea.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Come See Me!

Come join me on a fun, insightful, and sometimes surprising journey into your very own, glorious interior castles! I'll be chatting about the treasure inside of you at Lexington Green's Joseph Beth Bookseller on Sunday afternoon, September 26, 2010. The Fabulous Tina Bryson is going to be there, too, talking about about her book, 10 Things Every Kid Should Know About God. If you're in the area, come see me. If you're not in the area, and want to drive, fly, or take a train or bus, come see me!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Head Full of Birds: Week Three; 3D YOUR WHOLE LIFE

"Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Luke 22:42

Oh, how I need this scripture now. Last week I ranted about my epic fail trying to work, and then had the pleasure of reporting on how blessed I was to still have a job. But I must say, sickness tries me. Hard. From the time I went to Breckenridge it's buffeted me. I turn to food when I'm discouraged. Last week was no exception.

In today's reflection Carol quoted the wise saying, "I can't stop the birds from flying over my head, but I can stop them from nesting in my hair."

Ummmmm... I'm gonna need to redo my hair, lovies. 'Cause I've been eating potato chips--bar-b-que ones--like they're going to stop making them and last week was my last chance to partake. I've been knocking back sodas. The first week I had NO soda at all. But oh last week's temptations in my weakness. I keep asking myself, "When will I be better enough to really exercise? Really do this right? Lovies, last week was so bad, I couldn't even find my books until this morning. Mercy!

I'm so encouraged however, by Carol's gentle voice in this third week reminding me of Jesus and his ever present aid in our time of need. She writes of our Lord, "Who is in a better position than he to assist us when we begin to weaken in our resolve, or even when we fall? Every day he sought out and accomplished the will of his Father. Can we not trust him to help us seek and do that same divine will? "Father, thy will be done."

I don't know how you all are doing. I hope you have had a week of triumphs, but if you haven't, you aren't alone. We're on a journey. Some of us are going to go slow and steady, while others will seemingly gallop right out of the gates and keep a trottin'. It doesn't matter which we are, as long as we're headed in the same direction, and to the same place.

I missed the whole exercise and watch your steps and physical activity thing last week. I stared my week nearly fainting at work, and ended it hobbling home from work with a cane. But God be praised. This week, while I'm ruminating on will power and making gradual changes, I'm going to take more time to look at Jesus, and gradual change into a person who spends time with him that's more intentional; less on the fly. I need Jesus. Last week made me see that so clearly. I need him so much, in so many ways.

How about you? Where are you? What are you doing? Are you gonna eat your veggies this week?

Much love,
mair

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

After the Epic Fail Rant

Believe or not, and even I find it hard to believe, I went to work on Monday and all that happened was my coworkers and boss asked me if I were okay. Some people said they were praying for me.

Wow. Just wow.

Later that day my co-teacher said I was one of the best teachers she's worked with so far. That was very kind of her. I try to be creative. I like to bring a little magic to my classroom. Two-year-olds are very responsive to magic, though it's darned hard to keep their attention long enough to make it happen. It's a job all right, but my point is, it's a job that I still have.

I am so grateful.

I want to thank you all for your kindness. I've had a good couple of days. Yesterday, I found myself feeling kinda healthy! I knew without a doubt prayer was holding me up. Your prayers. I have a doctor's appointment on Thursday, and other than that, I think I'll get a whole week in with NO SICKNESS. I did have to have my son Kamau bring my cane to work at the end of the day, but that's all right. That's fibro, and it is what it is. I'm just happy I made until 5 pm.

And guess what? I'm gonna to have a Starbuck's Frappuccino and get started on that memoir tonight. Can you believe it???

I love you. Talk to you tomorrow!

mair

Monday, September 20, 2010

EPIC FAIL RANT

So, I started this job at the end of August. I actually really like the job, but here's the thing. Since I've been working--three weeks and one day, and pardon my graphic details--I've had a bladder infection so bad I peed a horror movie; that's one day off; a debilitating migraine; a half day off; went out of town for a trip I planned prior to getting the job (and I got sick there); a day off for travel; the sickness turned into a sinus and ear infection; two days off; had a bad reaction to the antibiotics I took for said sinus and ear infection; more than half a day off; which caused me to get sick and dehydrated, and yesterday I had another debilitating migraine in which I almost fainted on the job in a classroom with four one year olds. My co-workers called the paramedics, so I went to the ER; another day off! Do the math, lovies! And I still have a headache! I still feel sick, but at least I'm plenty hydrated now.

More naked truth: I'm afraid to go to work tomorrow. I'm afraid I don't have a work to go to. I'll be tapped on the shoulder right after circle time and told, "This isn't working out." Trust me. I noticed. It's not working so great for me either!

I had an "episode" on Friday night/Saturday morning. I didn't sleep but an hour, and had a 7 am training to attend. All night I fought a monster of depression that insisted that I was too defective to do anything but write. "Defective! Defective! Defective!" it roared. "You can't work; this job is an epic fail, and you're going to get put out of your home again." I totally freaked out. I can't even tell you how bad it was. Seriously. I can't tell you, and I tell you a lot. Of course, I had a med change, and powerful antibiotics were wrecking havoc in my system, but you've gotta admit, all I described, back to back, that's just overload. I'm soooo tired. I want to help my family. I need to help my family, but this whole working thing is looking like an epic fail, and I'm feeling like an epic fail. I don't write that well, not enough to compensate for the potential loss of a job in a tough economy, even if it is minimum wage!

Oh, Lord. What am I gonna do? I spent the day in the hospital. I don't even know if I should go to work tomorrow or rest.

Dang.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

mair

Friday, September 17, 2010

So, I Need Some Advice

Okay, so a publisher who I won't name is very, very interested in my story. She's particularly interested in the story of the abuse I endured and how I left my abuser. For years people have told me this is a riveting story, and for years I've insisted I didn't want to tell it, though ironically, I have about a gazillion times. But I haven't written it.

I've written snippets of it, and you've seen them if you read my blog post about the scars on my wrists--now covered by "love"--and the one about being thrown out of the house naked when I was very pregnant. I remember how I cried and cried when I wrote those, and now, I don't cry so much. Of course, one of those stories still has the power to devastate me; it involves my son and demonstrates how my instincts, even as a mother, had been dulled numb. I don't think I even told that one on the blog! In any case, it's the hardest of my stories. But that isn't what I'm asking about. I think I'm ready to write this thing, whether or not it'll be published, whether or not Raphael likes it, and may I say, I'm willing to protect his identity as much as possible. I don't know why I have to write this story, but I've been asked to do it too many times to ignore it anymore. I think God wants this. I want to give it to him.

But I don't know where to begin. Maybe I should trust that if I just starting telling the story, the awesome editor who has taken such an interest in me will guide me. Or maybe once I get going, the beauty I want to tell it with will emerge. It'll certainly be a different voice than the Teresa book. I think. See! I'm not sure. Maybe the voice in the Teresa book is the one! Just you and me; we've got a cup of tea in front of us, and just having a chat. Oh, but I love a lovely, achingly told memoir. What to do!?

Here's the last thing. There's a villain, of course, but there's also a hero. I want you to see more of the hero in this memoir, because it's really a love story between a ragamuffin and her Beloved, and the extraordinary measures the Beloved took to rescue her. If it isn't about that, I'm not interested in doing it. Who needs another harrowing abuse story just because.

When I was in Breckenridge I got to tell some of my story. A lot of it! As I talked, I remembered years ago when I was with Raphael, sneaking off to the Seventh Day Adventist bookstore just touching the Bibles and books. All my dreams of being a Christian writer--I thought--had been shattered. I told myself one terrible, honest day, "I'll never get to write for Jesus now." My heart was broken.

Fast forward about 16 years. When I was expecting my first copy of Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man, I was on the phone with BFF Marilynn Griffith the night before. I told Mary about standing in that store, and I burst into tears. I'd come a loooong way, baby. A loooooong way. The next day, I was IMing with my friend Stacia, and the book came. Once again I burst into tears, remembering my grief in that store. I was immobilized. It was hard to process that a package had come, a Christian book, with my name on it. I had survived it all, and I wrote something for Jesus!

Stacia had to insist I stop weeping into my keyboard. Ken took me by the elbow and tenderly told me to open it, and I stood there weeping, utterly amazed, and all I could think of were the words to the Magnificat. I was sooo not Catholic. I don't think I was even Orthodox yet! But there it was, the first lines ringing in my soul:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant."
I don't mean to imply that I'm anything like Our Lady. I had simply been given a magnificent gift, one I neither deserved, or had any right to expect, and these words fit so well. And now here I am, wanting to tell the story of why that day, holding that book, meant so much.  I want to share exactly how lowly I was--and not in a good way--and how much amazing grace--unmerited, lavish favor--I had been given.

Maybe I should simply tell what happened: unvarnished; the truth. Begin there. See what God does.

What do you think? I'm sooo nervous, and anxious to hear what you have to say.

Much love,
mair

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We Made it to the Second Week! WHEEEEEEE!

Oh, look at us lovies! We are really something. First of all, I want to commend you because you are here! Though some of you are still lurking. Speak up! It's only us folks who support one another, and if we ever needed each other on a journey, it's right now.

This week's memory verse is one that will serve us as well as the first week's. It is Hebrews 12:11: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yield's the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." That's the kind of fruit I want to eat several daily portions of!

This week is about being mindful of our movement. It will be helpful for those of us who can to get a hold of one of those pedometers to do so, or to simply begin to log in some daily exercise. Dr. Oz recommends a daily half-hour. That's doable for most of us, and look at it this way, you can break it down into ten minute increments if you want to.

I have to confess, last week wasn't so great. I started out okay, but remember that trip to Breckenridge? Well... I got really sick. Not fibromyalgia sick. Friday morning, as I was preparing to leave, I kept sneezing. By the time I arrived I had what I thought was a cold, which turned into nasty sinus and ear,  infections, along with a wicked sore throat. I spent the majority of my time in Breckenridge asleep (but when I was awake I basked in delightful company. I was the baby in the bunch, and boy did those God divas ever inspire me! And may I say, I want to be like them when I grow up!) But I came home feeling worse! Finally, I went to the doctor yesterday, and spent the rest of the day and today mostly in bed. I'm emerging from my coma. I can almost hear, and my energy is picking up, though I'm mighty migrainey, so you'll pardon me if I take it a little easy until I feel better. I return to work tomorrow, and back to the program. On the bright side, being sick did wonders for my weigh in!

Okay, again, migrainy. I'm going to rest a bit. Sorry I've been so quiet. I love you!

mair

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hang in there!

Okay, so it may be a little difficult to stay focused. Who's used to discipline? If we were all that and a bag of chips (oh! a bag of chips!), we wouldn't have to do this.

It really doesn't matter what your weight is, the fact of the matter is that we can all stand to be mindful. Forgive yourself if you're off track or lagging behind, and keep it moving. We're all being challenged, by stress, pain, sickness, problems at work, or issues at home, but we are changing our lives. So, if you're a little discouraged, you're absolved of all 3D sins these past five days, and you get to have a glorious Tuesday and Wednesday. Plan your work, and work your plan. Go to the 3D YOUR WHOLE LIFE website and enjoy the goodies there.

Breathe.

Hang in there.

You're exactly where you're supposed to be.
xoxo!
mair

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I'm OUTTA here! Just for the Weekend.

Okay, change of plans. I was going to take my computer and such on my weekend trip to PAAAARTAY with my friend Terry and a few ridiculously fabulous God broads. It's Terry's birthday! Hurray! If you remember, I've talked about Terry here before, and she gets a mention in God Alone is Enough--though they cut the best story about her. Anyway, Terry is my favorite person, second to Jesus himself, to share a meal with. She makes eating an art form. No, it's more contemplative than that. Eating with Terry is prayer. So, I'll be contemplatively eating this weekend in beautiful Breckenridge, CO, sans my computer. I'm un-moderating my comments, hoping no spammers appear, so you can still dialogue about your 3D YOUR WHOLE LIFE JOURNEY, although I lost the battle today with a caramel apple, and a small amount of ice cream (okay, I had a second helping of spaghetti), I'm just going to forgive myself, and keep going. The truth is, I'm really stressed, and having almost daily migraines. I think I need to get away and let some women bless me (see, T. I read the book, and really liked it!). I'm taking my 3D materials with me. Please pray for me, lovies. The reality is, this is not an easy journey. It's going to take all the prayer we've got in us. Like the scripture says, no discipline is easy. I'm sure you've all noticed that it's difficult, and maybe you too, have had your slips. We begin again. We go in grace. We keep one another in prayer, and keep it moving.

I need to hear from more of you, even if I'm not here this weekend. Where are you???

Much love,
mair

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

3D YOUR WHOLE LIFE!!! And So We Commence!

Today some friends and I begin a journey to healing. I want to welcome my lovies, some of which are new to my blog. Thank you for joining me, Katherine, Leslie, Jean, Alicia, Christa, Ally, Tracey, Patricia, Alison, my sister Carly, Hugh, and Lois. And I can't forget Treva! She's the one who was gracious enough to send you all complimentary copies of the book and journal. I, of course, am Claudia Mair Burney. I prefer to be called Mair (rhymes with fire), but don't worry. I'm not going to bust your chops if you call me Claudia. We come from all over the united states: from Alabama, and Georgia; Oklahoma, and Michigan; Louisiana, and Indiana; Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, and New York. I'm not sure where Hugh is from. Perhaps he'll tell us. I'm sure we have lurkers from all over, too. Oh, the wonders of the world wide web. Welcome, welcome all! If I'm not mistaken, we are the first 3D YOUR WHOLE LIFE virtual group. This is going to be good!

Some of you have just received your books, and you haven't begun to dig in yet. You'll find that in the first few chapters are illustrious guides, Carol Showalter and Maggie Davis. Carol started the first Christian diet program thirty-five years ago--don't worry Carol. We won't do the math. Carol tells us the story of how 3D began. Maggie chimes in with her gentle encouragement to us to abandon rigid diets and to take it easy! The changes we make will be gradual, and based on sound nutritional guidelines. We want our changes to last, beloved friends. But don't worry. You simply cannot fail in this group unless you completely drop out. If you do one thing: decrease your portions, walk every day, embrace a scripture you learned in the devotions, you would have changed your life for good. So be encouraged. Maggie says in the book, "During this process you will  learn not only to enjoy eating right but also how to know yourself in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is a journey as much as it is a destination. There will be speed bumps, stop signs, and detours on the road--but you will use this program to keep you traveling on your journey to eating right and achieving better health." And that's not all, but before I get to the really good stuff, I've got some other essentials to enjoying this program completely to share with you.

First, I want you all to participate. Comment on how excited you are, or afraid, or whatever! Your comments are so very important. I don't know you're here, or what you're doing if you don't comment. It's all right to be transparent here. Most of you know on this blog I'm Saran wrap. You can see right through me. I know some of your stories already, and I can assure you that I moderate all the comments, and I won't let anyone hurt you for your vulnerability.

Next, do the things that are listed in The Plan section for week 1: fill out the Initial and Quarterly Health Assessment, determine your Body Mass Index and Health risks, and do use the YOUR WHOLE LIFE JOURNAL every day. Carol and Maggie encourage us to use a pedometer to determine how many steps we take in an average day. I have to confess, I need to buy one, fast! But if you don't have one yet you can still exercise. Also, do something to pretty up your world. A fresh flower or a nice plant on the kitchen table would be lovely.

Finally, and most importantly, we're going to fall in love more deeply with God our Beloved. Read your daily devotions, and memorize your scripture verse. Pray for five people, daily, and don't neglect to pray for everyone in our group. I'll start us off with the 3D Prayer in the back of the book:

Dear Lord,

This is a new day
That means I can expect from your hand
     all I need to live.
Help me to know
Your grace is sufficient
Your power is overwhelming
     and your peace and joy are here for the asking.
I need you in so many practical ways, Lord
I need you to help me choose the right spirit
     at the beginning of the day
I need you to help me with my family
     the work I need to get done
     and the pressures that come at me
     before my eyes are even open.
I need you to go ahead of me every step of the way
You will do that
This day is yours
I am yours.
Thank you for loving me and giving me
     the gift of life today.
When I am ready to close my eyes
     at the end of this day
May I say with a steady voice:
I have loved you more today than I did yesterday
But not as much as I will tomorrow.
Make it so, dear Lord.
Amen.

Yummy! That was some good prayer!

There are just a few more things I need you to do as we begin. In the back of your book there's a commitment card. Sign it. It's like your contract. Let it encourage you to stick with this. Also, I want you to visit the 3D YOUR WHOLE LIFE website. You can find it here. There are lots of valuable resources available on the site. Use them! I also want to tell you about another helpful book that I'm using. You can order a copy from the 3D website. It's called SURRENDERING HUNGER. It's a wonderful devotional with daily readings for those of us who struggle with food issues. You'll find in it a straight-talking (love that!) meditation, and a prayer to give you strength and hope for this fantastic journey. It's written by Jan Johnson, and I promise you'll find her words insightful.

Every Wednesday we'll check in, but you can post a comment any day this week, at any time.  I work from 8-5, Monday through Friday, but when I get off, I'll be around to post your comments. So don't worry if you don't see them right away. We have to do a weigh in, lovies. It's part and parcel of the journey, and it helps to track our progress, though we aren't looking at weight alone as the indicator of our success. But any weight loss program will require a weigh in. It's just how they roll. I'll go first, as horrifying as the thought is. You'll find that number in the comments.

So go, my dears! Exercise, eat right, love God, and bring some beauty and order to your life. You can do it!

Much love, and prayers for all of you!

mair

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Frederica Mathewes-Green and a Shining jewel of the East

Hello lovies,

Thanks for being so patient. Here's the wonderful interview with Frederica Mathewes-Green about her fantastic book The Jesus Prayer. Enjoy! And happy Labor Day!




Like many Westerners, I discovered the Jesus Prayer in J.D. Salinger's 1961 book, Franny and Zooey. At the time I had a raging crush on J.D. I would have had his literary love child, but God was kind enough never to let me near that man. But I'm indebted to Salinger, because I read The Way of the PIlgrim in my zeal. I remember saying the Jesus Prayer, and this was when I was a teenager--and feeling that rhythm take up residence inside much, much like I experienced when I left Divine Liturgies. The haunting prayers we sang remained with me for days. Sometimes, when I'm in trouble--and that happens far more often than I wish--I go back to the Jesus Prayer, because my mind can be blown like a fuse by whatever circumstance I'm in, and the Jesus Prayer is the only thing I can deal with. So, I thank God for it. But please tell those of us who don't know or have any experience with it exactly what the Jesus Prayer is.

     The Jesus Prayer is a short prayer that asks Jesus for mercy; the usual form is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," but it can be a little shorter or longer, depending on what suits you best. The idea is to form the habit of saying it constantly inside, like background music for everything that happens in your life. It is a way to do as St. Paul advised and "Pray constantly." I think for many of us the exhortation to "pray constantly" is intimidating, and not very inviting; it sounds like having to say prayers all the time, which would be tedious. The simplicity of the Jesus Prayer allows it to become second nature, as natural as breathing.
 
How did you start praying the Jesus Prayer?
     Like you, I gave it a try after I read Franny and Zooey, probably in high school. I tried saying the Jesus Prayer then, and at a few times later on in life, but I couldn't get it to "stick." You know, I hear people say that if you repeat any short phrase or word quietly, and shut out other thoughts, it gives a feeling of peace, but I have never had that work for me. Repeating a prayer (or any word or phrase) just seems boring and tedious. But the Prayer caught on better for me after I'd been Orthodox a couple of years, I think because I was beginning to grasp the dynamic power of repentance. I recently learned that the earliest "repeated prayers" of the Desert Fathers were prayers for help (for example, "O God make speed to save me, O Lord make haste to help me"). Prayers for mercy, like "Kyrie Eleison," didn't appear till the 4th century. But with the prayer for mercy came a more profound spirituality, because it was concerned not only with God's immediate power and ability to help in any circumstance, but with an ongoing relationship that has been damaged by our sins. And so it was for me; praying the Jesus Prayer didn't make sense till I had a better idea of how sin damages our God-connection.

Some people think ancient prayers like the one we're discussing are "vain repetitions." We know this isn't true, but how would you address this criticism, especially when it's offered by a very sincere Christian?
 
       I was given this challenge once while leading a women's retreat for an evangelical church, and had to chuckle (privately) because we had just been singing praise choruses that consisted of nothing but short phrases repeated over and over. Obviously, if you mean it, it's not in vain. A husband repeats "I love you, I love you" to his bride, and she doesn't become irritated with the repetition. "I love you" means something more every day of your life. So it is with the Lord; words fail us, literally, but we can use simple, familiar words as a way to hold the connection with him, without having to always be thinking up different things to say. The phrase "vain repetition" appears in the King James translation, in the passage where Jesus is telling the disciples how to pray. Don't pile up empty words, like the pagans do, he says. Instead, pray like this: "Our Father..." That is a prayer most of us have repeated more than once in our lives!

In chapter two you give something like a remarkable capsule course in Orthodoxy. I was impressed at what you crammed into those pages! But I'm Western through and through, and found my soul's home in the Catholic Church. Many of my readers are Evangelical Christians. So, if the prayer's original context is found in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, how can we Western Christians benefit from it?
 
     It was a dilemma for me, trying to figure out how much background to give. I didn't understand the life-giving joy of repentance until I had been Orthodox for several years. It hinged on re-understanding a number of things, including major concepts like the Incarnation, the Cross, Salvation--yes, there is even a different understanding of what "Salvation" means, in Orthodoxy. The more I learned, the more I was able to get into the swing of the Jesus Prayer. It makes a kind of sense, in its original context, that isn't immediately obvious elsewhere.

But of course anyone who prays "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy" can benefit from it! There's no requirement to be Orthodox. So as I wrote the book I tried to supply enough background information to make the original context accessible, but not to overdo it. At first I *did* overdo it, and had way too much background explanation of Orthodoxy. I just couldn't figure out where to tie things off. The editor and I decided to remove most of that material and save it for a different book, which I will write this year, a basic "Introduction to Orthodoxy." 

You said--and I love this about your writing. It's so accessible--that the instructions for reciting the Jesus Prayer could fit on the back of a shampoo bottle: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me." Repeat. It looks like to me you could stick 'em in a fortune cookie! But it really isn't that simple, is it? Please tell us why.
     I think it is for the same reason that the three little words, "I love you," have endless depth. A set of words like that stand almost as a token for something that is deep beyond all words. You can hold the words like a crystal and see the light slanting through from all different angles. One of the mysterious effects of the Jesus Prayer is that it helps us understand ourselves better and better as time goes by. There is nothing as beautiful and complex as the human person. Christ came to earth to restore us to the image and likeness of God, and the process of transformation is one of deep healing--which rests on the kind of deep repentance that is willing to let go and allow that change to happen. It's a paradox, isn't it, that "a picture is worth a thousand words," yet a handful of words can plumb depths that no visual image could capture.

So how do we begin?
     The goal is to learn to maintain an inner prayer-connection with God all the time. But you can't begin to do anything all of the time; you have to start out by doing it *some* of the time. So there are two basic bits of advice. First, start saying the Prayer any time it comes to mind. A good place to start is any time you are bored and having to wait for something (waiting in line at a cash register, or waiting in traffic, that sort of thing). Take your time repeating "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," or "...have mercy on me, a sinner," like the Publican in the Temple prayed. It makes otherwise wasted time not just bearable, but productive, in that it is turning you toward the presence of God.

The second bit of advice is to set aside some time every day to say the Prayer. Usually 10 or 15 minutes is good for a start. Orthodox Christians often use a "prayer rope," that is, a loop of woolen cord tied with 100 knots. Saying one prayer for each knot takes about 15 minutes. If you do this once a day, and do your best to block out other thoughts that come in and try to interrupt you, the habit of the Jesus Prayer will begin to take root. It is a very useful thing to have this Prayer already at hand, an integrated part of your prayer life, when life hands you situations that are challenging.

What can we expect once we dive in?
     I always face the dilemma when talking about the Prayer that I do talk more about the mechanics of the Prayer than the experience and purpose of the Prayer. The purpose is to come into union with God. The purpose is to know Jesus Christ, directly, immediately, in a communion that is like a nearly-wordless conversation, in the midst of our ordinary daily lives. I think that those who have experienced this already can get, from that description, and idea of what to expect. Those who haven't perhaps should just keep in mind that we are not seeking a spiritual experience, but communion with a person, Jesus Christ the Lord. So there will be some similarities to any of the best and most loving relationships we have with persons in this life. It would be a mistake to focus instead on having mystical experiences. That is a well-known trap of spiritual confusion and evil, to get people side-tracked onto admiring their own spiritual growth. If you focus on the Lord, you can't help but stay humble, and humility is the safeguard against every kind of danger.

Any parting words?

I hope that many of your readers and friends will be moved to take up this beautiful prayer. It has been a great blessing to me. Before, I was sometimes frustrated in wanting to draw near the Lord in prayer, but not having anything particular to "talk about," or getting tired of talking and thinking in words. The simple Jesus Prayer keeps the connection open in a natural way, without having to keep the verbal motor spinning. It has been a blessing to Eastern Christian for about 1500 years now, and will be just as great a blessing for Christians of the Western tradition.

Thanks so much for this opportunity, Claudia! May God bless you and inspire you. Love, F

No, thank you! Pick up your copy of The Jesus Prayer at your local bookstore, or at amazon.com. And do visit Frederica on her website at http://www.frederica.com/

Peace!
mair