Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Franny Glass taught me the Jesus Prayer when I was 13 or 14. JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey was the first adult book that changed my world, and Zooey was more or less disposable. My interest was in Franny, the freshman at Yale, youngest of a family of strange and exceptional people, trying to pray incessantly and winding up having a nervous breakdown on her parents’ couch. I identified with her. My best friend, Jennifer, was also devoted to F&Z, and she sent me a copy of The Way of a Pilgrim, the Russian Orthodox text Franny carries around with her in her bag, as a gift. It is the story of a man wandering on foot and encountering various teachers, one of whom gives him the practice of repeating the Jesus Prayer ceaselessly. It was the first spiritual book in the Christian tradition I ever read, other than the Gospels themselves. Before that, I had mostly read mythology, and for a while I was interested in books on Wicca and neo-paganism and the occult. Then I discovered Buddhism, and, as senior in high school, I wrote a term paper on Eastern philosophy in Salinger’s work, which is now lost to the sands of time. It wasn’t until I was 23, after I had experienced something I could not explain that somehow revealed the significance of the Cross to me, that I began to take Christianity seriously.
The Jesus Prayer is still my favorite mantra. There are other prayers that I use. The Serenity Prayer feels like home to me (I accompanied my parents to AA meetings as a child, and we always seemed to have a tapestry of the Serenity Prayer hanging on a wall.) The Lord’s Prayer/Our Father is something I seem to have known all my life, even though I rarely went to church growing up, and I came to appreciate it more after reading commentaries by St. Teresa and Simone Weil. I remember repeating it in my mind through two hour tai chi/kung fu classes at the Shaolin Center I went to in New York. When I was praying the Divine Office consistently, I used to wake up with O God, come to my aid, O Lord, make haste to help me already on my lips. When I am meditating I often find myself chanting gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā from the Heart Sutra in my mind, or simply calling the name Avalokiteshvara (the boddhisatva of compassion). But none of the other mental prayers I know arise in my mind as spontaneously or as frequently in everyday life as the Jesus Prayer. I’ll say it to myself as I’m falling asleep at night, without even realizing that I’ve started. I say it when I get distracted. I say it when I feel sorrow. I say it when I’m waiting in line for communion at Mass. I don’t say it ceaselessly, but never seems to be far from my heart.