PRAYER: Ways of Praying (5) — Praying In The Heat Of The Moment (includes Kything and the Jesus Prayer), by Andrew Dreitcer

Saint Seraphim of Sarov

From: Prayer Practices for the Way of Peace, Choosing Peace Through Daily Practices

(This is a continuation of a piece, the first part of which was posted on an earlier date.)

As I have suggested, the Christian tradition has developed a richness of prayer.  There may be a form of prayer for every sensibility.  In this section, I present a number of ways of praying that may be practiced in order to help form an interior foundation for peace in oneself and in the world.

Praying in the Heat of the Moment

For those of us who can manage to set aside a designated chunk of time each day for prayer, all the ways of praying I have described to this point may offer fruitful resources.  But many of us have great difficulty finding and keeping such time.  I share this problem.  So, over the years, I have tended to gravitate toward prayers that I can practice on the run, along the way, in the heat of the moment.  Two in particular continue to be important to me: “Kything” and the Jesus Prayer.


Madeline l’Engle coined the term “kything,” deriving it from the Celtic phrase “kith and kin.”  For l’Engle, the word evokes a sense of relatedness or presence that – like the bonds of kith and kin – cannot be broken.  Louis Savary and Patricia Berne have borrowed the term to describe a particular way of praying.  (Kything)  Kything prayer engages the imagination to focus on the interconnectedness between all people, transformative love in relation to “the other.”  For many people, this form of prayer may be indispensable for building a truly just peace.  I offer a version I have developed in my own life.

      • Consider an individual or group that you are with or soon to be encountering.  Hold them in your imagination.
      • As you focus on them, imagine yourself being surrounded by a vital, God-filled light.
      • Now imagine the other person or group being surrounded by a similar light.
      • As your imagination holds both these images, allow the lights gradually to merge into one.
      • Rest in this image for a time.

This prayer may be rather easily engaged when you are not in the heat of the encounter.  But with a bit of practice, it is possible to be praying in this way even in the midst of a difficult meeting with people you may fear.  In that case, the imagination carries on – caught up in the trust that within a single, divine light is room for the peace, justice, compassion, and creative love that flow from God.

The Jesus Prayer

In the section on centering prayer, I discussed the desert tradition of “prayer of the heart.”  The Jesus Prayer represents a particularly defined form of this tradition.  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” is one version of the prayer, which has its roots in the biblical phrases, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” (the blind man in Luke 18:38) and, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” (the tax collector in the parable around Luke 18:13).  As the monastic tradition in the Eastern church developed a sustained (centuries-long) practice of short, repetitious, biblically based prayers, the words of the Jesus Prayer (in a variety of versions) became the dominant prayer of this type.  The prayer itself does not appear in any (extant) writings prior to the sixth century.  It seems to retain the ancient Hebraic notion that there is divine power in speaking or meditating upon the divine name.  One monk in the tradition describes the prayer in this way:

This prayer, when you have learnt to use it properly, or rather, when it becomes grafted to the heart, will lead you to the end which you desire; it will unite your mind with your heart, it will quell the turbulence of your thoughts, and it will give you power to govern the movements of your soul. (The Art of Prayer, Theophan the Recluse)

For many years, I prayed my own version of this prayer: “Be with me, Jesus, in love and mercy.”  I recently returned to the traditional form.  Whatever version you may embrace or create, those who practice such prayers say that their vitality comes through repetition, constant repetition.  Eventually, it is said, as the prayer moves from the lips to the mind to the heart, it begins to “pray itself” continually, with no effort on the part of the pray-er.  Thus, this kind of prayer can go on in the midst of work and play, stressful times and calm times, joys and sorrows.  I have found that the slow, steady repetition does, indeed, ground the movements of my soul in the face of disruptive events and situations.

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