We opened class on Wednesday by praying the Jesus prayer.  It is this simple and poignant prayer from the Orthodox tradition.  The simplest form is “Jesus have mercy on me.”  I have prayed it in other classes and on contemplative prayer retreats.  My experience praying it has been a surprising blessing.  I don’t come from a tradition or experience that uses or esteems written prayers.  Praying it in class was quieting and sweet and help set my mind on what is good and true.

Praying it as a directed devotional time in class brought to mind the first time I prayed it spontaneously.  I had gotten to know a number of young hippies turned Orthodox monks, or at least they were in the neophyte stage of figuring out if they were going to become monks.  Anyways, I had been surfing and working on an organic farm with one such fellow who gave me the long version of the Jesus prayer on the back of an icon card.  I found it interesting and sort of kept it as a souvenir  from my contacts with the Orthodox tradition.  At the time I did not get the purpose or beauty of repetitive prayer.  However, months after receiving the card I was driving an old school bus to my home in San Francisco after just having gotten my bus driver’s license.  As I turned the bus down a narrow side street around the corner from my house, I heard a unnerving scraping sound.  I looked in the side view mirror to see a Mercedes sticking out beyond the rest of the parallel parked cars I had just braked past.  In a split second I concluded that I must have side swiped the Mercedes.  My response  was to start repeating over and over again “Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…”

I don’t know why the Jesus prayer came to mind just then.  But dang was that the best response I’ve ever had to a near accident.  Oh, and there was mercy.  I hopped out and ran back to look at the Mercedes.  There were no marks on it.  There was a Jetta just ahead of it that had its side view mirror collapsed backwards as it was designed to do for just such an occasion.  I think that was perhaps the sound I heard as it hit the side of the bus.  Yes!

Praying and recollections of God’s busdriving mercies were a lovely way to head into studying the development of the Easter Orthodox Church.  More on that next week and hopefully some responses to lectures on monasticism.