Monday, June 26, 2017

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” — Hesychast Prayer or Jesus Prayer

                       I believe that every single one of us has been knocked to his or her knees on more than one occasion and has needed the healing power of prayer.  Some of us have even asked God for help.  I am guilty of not praying for the relief of my own pain (my wife asks, “Did you ask God for help?) as I seem to think that God has too much to do to answer my selfish prayer.  This is, of course, wrong.  It is even more wrong than I care to admit because I have prayed for that relief in the past, and God has heard and answered my prayers.  Perhaps the best example of this was my brush with death almost thirty years ago (there have been several, this one just comes to mind). 
                         On a Friday afternoon in May of 1990, while we were living in Boston as I attended seminary, something terrible happened to me.  I had put Karen on a plane to Arkansas that morning to fly back to see our oldest son, Chris, graduate from the University of Arkansas (both of his brothers would later also graduate from the U. of A.).  I stayed in Boston because we couldn’t afford for all of us to go, although we all wanted to be there.  I was taking care of John, age 15, and Keith, age 10, but around two o’clock in the afternoon while Keith was at Little League practice, I experienced a horrible pain in my back.  It felt like someone had stabbed me.  I called a member of the church to come take care of my boys and when they arrived I drove myself to the hospital some 25 miles away while doubled over with pain.  I was rushed into emergency around three in the afternoon and experienced unbearable agony for the next thirteen hours while they tried to find out what was wrong with me.  They couldn’t give me anything for the pain until they knew what it was, and they didn’t find out until four A.M. the next morning.  Once they knew, I was rushed into surgery at six A.M. where they operated for four hours repairing what turned out to be a badly ruptured gall bladder.  Karen flew home two days later, but there was no rush as I would be in the hospital for twenty-one days—and this was an HMO, so you know how serious this was.  I was given a 25% chance of survival, but I had been given a 10% chance of surviving malignant melanoma in 1977, so I had a good record of beating the odds, and I did, once again.  During those thirteen hours of excruciating pain, all I could do was pray the prayer you see in the quote above that I had learned in one of my classes at seminary.  It is sometimes called the “breath prayer” and the fourteenth century monks who practiced it believed you could actually feel the presence of Jesus if you prayed it often enough and sincerely enough and without sound.  With that prayer, I built a little wall around my pain and survived.  I remember feeling the presence of Christ because He came when I called. I don’t remember a whole lot about that time, but I remember the church member (now deceased) who stayed with me and held my hand throughout my pain and didn’t leave until I went into surgery.  His name was Harry Lynch.  His wife, Sylvia, was living at our house so the boys would feel comfortable until Karen returned.  They were true angels and I will never forget them.  I remember the seventeen-inch scar because I still have it.  I remember the surgeon who came in to to check on me at two A.M. and how we talked theology for two hours.  I remember seeing the stricken look on my wife’s face when she saw me for the first time in my hospital bed.  I remember the great relief when they removed the nasal/gastric tube, but my greatest and longest lasting memory is that the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, truly had mercy on me, a sinner.
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