46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.
I love Bartimaeus and have gained insight from his persistence in his call to Jesus. Yet, I often wonder if most people who use the prayer understand its implications. The story itself has many layers. The blind Bartimaeus had a strength we often do not have.
First, the story takes place after Jesus has made his 3rd prediction of his coming death and has turned toward Jerusalem. As Jesus and the disciples leave Jericho Bartimaeus calls until Jesus acknowledges him from there the real meat of the story happens. Bart is calling at a critical time as Jesus is now focused on what will happen in Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus stops and answers Bart’s call. I am reminded of all the times I have called on Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit and wonder if I too have made my petition at an inopportune time. It is a grace that Jesus responds to Bart. This gives me hope.
Second, Jesus doesn’t just heal him rather, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants from Him. Bart must articulate, say out loud, he wants to see. Bart must not only admit his need he must believe in the words Jesus will speak. It is in Bart’s belief in Jesus that he is made to see. He sees not just the world around him but the truth of what he sees. It has always been hard for me to speak my needs. I am always afraid I will be ridiculed or told that what I need is not important. I admit that my belief hasn’t always been as strong as Bart’s was that day in Jericho. Opening my heart and soul to my Creator has not been easy. But, I am a work in progress and I do believe the Holy Spirit is patient with me.
But there is one more piece that is often lost, Bart follows Jesus. Does he follow Him all the way to the end and the resurrection, we don’t know? But in the question and answer of the story, and the following the path that the story takes real meaning. We can ask for mercy, but what do we really want from Jesus. Bart followed Jesus on a difficult path, a road that led to Crucifixion, and yes, resurrection. But also, much pain and suffering. We don’t know if Bart stayed the course. I would like to think he did. But it gives me pause to think when I offer this prayer, what will I do when I am offered the opportunity to see.
I watched a PBS program the other night about Shakespeare’s Macbeth and one insight of the host made me sit up and take notice. The play of Macbeth, as Shakespeare tells it, is about the ego. You see Macbeth let his own and his wife’s ego control his life and I resonate with that. As of late I am wrestling with my own ego issues. Now I doubt I am going to go and kill anyone to get ahead, although metaphorically speaking I may have done that already, but right now I am trying to separate my desires from the desires of God. To be honest I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. The question I ask myself (ok questions) ‘is what I want what God wants for me and from me,’ or ‘am I telling God what I want and just assuming that it is what God wants to do.’
You see telling the difference between those two things is really very difficult. God doesn’t speak in direct ways. Rather, God speaks through the voices of those I love, the actions of others, or my own emotional response to things, but God never makes a telephone call, writes an e-mail, or even makes a Facebook® post, as much as I would appreciate that. Sitting in silence and letting go of my expectations is wonderful but how long do I sit before I begin to wonder if anyone listening?
So how do proceed? Well for me it is learning (and re-learning over and over again) patience and letting go of the necessity to be anything other than who I am. That doesn’t mean I have no ambition it just means that I begin by changing how I view the world around me. Is the world here for my benefit or am I here for the worlds? If I am here to benefit the world than what I do should provide those around me with the love, compassion, kindness, justice and peace that God calls me to offer without expecting a reward or recognition. For me, as I’m sure everyone else, that is hard to do, we are, after all, ‘required’ to list our skills and what we have done with those skills whenever we apply for job or even volunteer. I’m not sure putting down my skill as “walking with God” (Micah 6:8) is enough for most people. So that is my dilemma, how do tell the difference between “walking with God” and a desire for getting ahead in this world.
Life is rarely simple and well defined and looking for answers by sitting and listening for a ‘word’ from God is not an easy thing to do. Currently, I am in one of the proverbial ‘dry places’ in my prayer and spiritual life that happens to all of us. I am questioning whether God is even listening to me, or even if there is a God. Such questions and doubts are difficult to face and are frightening to think I may have wasted my life in pursuit of God. All I can do is continue to sit in silence and wait; to practice praying the scriptures and pray for an insight; and to pray the call of blind Bartimaeus “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:42). Instead of worrying about not ‘hearing’ from God I ‘should’ understand this is a time for me to rest and let silence enfold me and let the silence create its own richness and prayers that I cannot speak. And maybe I have to remember that I do not have to pursue God. God actually sits near by waiting for me to surrender my ego and open the eyes of my heart to that Divine presence. It is remembering prayer isn’t about receiving answers it is about sitting with God, creating space for God to move in my life in ways my ego will never understand.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 (NRSV) 12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 . . ., encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
There is an ancient story in the Orthodox Christian Tradition concerning a Pilgrim who searches for a deep communion with God, for an understanding of prayer and the spiritual practice of “prayer without ceasing.” In his travels and conversations with people of the church he discovers the writings of the Christian writers where he learns how to let his life be a witness to the teachings of Christ through unceasing prayer. Using the words of the blind beggar Bartimaeus who calls out to Jesus “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and timing his breath and steps to the rhythm of the prayer the Pilgrim repeated the prayer without stop as he journeyed from place to place. He found that even when he wasn’t literally speaking the prayer it was playing in the back of his mind and guided him in his actions towards all he me.
The prayer the Pilgrim used is called the “Jesus Prayer” and often used in a form of contemplative prayer called the Breath Prayer. By repeating the Jesus Prayer in a daily prayer practice the mind learns to become still and your being centered in order for the still small word of G-d to be heard and the presence of G-d to be felt. But the pilgrim wasn’t just praying a breath prayer; he was using an ancient form of prayer called chanting.
A chant is defined as a “short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung on/or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes; A canticle or prayer is sung or intoned in this manner, or to sing or intone to a chant such as chant a prayer. It is the repetitive speaking or singing a single tone, word, or phrase that the one praying uses to open the door into G-ds presence. And, chanting has an eclectic past. It is used by almost every religion in some form or other. The far Eastern Tradition often uses a single tone, pronounced “ohm,” to draw their minds into stillness and into oneness with the universe. Those in the Judaic faith repeat the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” traditionally as they rise in the morning and as they go to bed at night. But it is also used as a prayer chant. Those in the Roman Catholic Faith have many chants which they use to draw their minds into stillness and their hearts into G-ds presence. One type, Gregorian chants, were psalms set to music in which medieval Monks used for the same purpose, creating stillness. I became interested in chanting many years ago when I heard my first Gregorian chant and found the cadence and sound of the notes lifted my heart into a new place that it had never been before. I have been chanting ever since.
In the scripture quoted above from 1 Thessalonians Paul calls us to pray without ceasing. When I was a teenager and heard those words my first thought was that is impossible. After all, I have class work to do, problems to figure out, chores to do, people to talk to, games to play, work to do, you name it and I could find a reason why such a task would be difficult. I’m betting you could add to this list, after all our lives are busy with living. So how on earth can we pray constantly? Well it has taken me a little while, Ok, OK, a long while, to figure that conundrum out. I realized that Paul wasn’t asking us to give up our lives. Rather he was calling us to center our lives in prayer. For me chanting has been the way to accomplish that task.
Now you might be asking how chanting helps me pray unceasingly? A while back I was laid off from my job and I was truly afraid of what could happen if I didn’t find another one. Every evening, following a day of unsuccessful job searching, I took long walks with my dog and tried to come to grips with what was happening to me. The problem was I was the only one talking. In fact I realized I was talking so much that if G-d was there she was never going to get a word in edgewise. One evening a friend invited me to a Taizé service and I rediscovered the peacefulness of singing chants in order to quiet my mind and offer the simple prayer of myself.
My Spiritual Practice of Chanting
So how does chanting help G-d enter, well the steps are pretty easy really. First of all there are really no hard and fast rules. You begin by identifying a word or phrase that draws your attention and has significance for you. This is a trial and error processes so don’t worry if it doesn’t quite fit and you have to change it. You will discover your chants will change over time as your needs change.
To begin a spiritual practice of prayer chanting set aside 15 to 20 minutes in your day and repeat your chant, rhythmically, timing it to your breath or your step as you walk. You may chant out loud or you may do it silently it all depends on where you are and what is happening around you at any given moment. The major thing is to practice it every day. Learning a Spiritual practice means you must do it every day just as if you were learning to play an instrument or play a game, it takes commitment.
You have a wide choice of times to choose when to practice your chants. You may set aside a quiet time as you would for any meditation or you may chant while preparing for you day in the morning or rest at night; waiting and riding public transit; doing dishes, laundry, or other housework. The key is to do it every day. Gradually, just like the ancient Pilgrim, the prayer will begin to “play” in the background of you mind all the time, providing comfort and guidance in all your daily activities.
You may chant using whatever method you are most comfortable with such as a single tone, as those in the Far Eastern traditions do; a single spoken word or phrases, such as the Jesus Prayer; or, and this is my preferred way, a musical chant. Whatever you choose the process is pretty much the same. Musical chants are often short scriptures or spiritual phrases set to a simple tune that is easily remembered and sung. Because I love music, even though I no longer am able to sing well, and I find musical chants the easiest for me to remember and repeat when I am praying. I find that music triggers a sense of stillness the spoken word alone cannot do.
I mentioned my chants change from to time to time and it is because my relationship with G-d changes over time. As my relationship deepens I become more comfortable with certain chants because they draw me deeper into the mystery that is G-d. You will know when that happens and you will also simply know what chants deepen your experience with G-d and other don’t. I have a number of different chants that I am particularly fond of that I use depending on where I am emotionally and spiritually that day. Most often I use scripture passages that have been set to music but occasionally I will use a phrase that means something to me at that time in my chants. Currently one of my favorites is based on Matthew 28:10, 20 “Do not be afraid, I am with you always.” The music is written by Harpist Linda Larkin and the arraignment is by John P. Newell. This chant reminds me I am not alone and I find comfort in it when I am confused and frustrated. I also often use the Taizé chant Ubi Caritas (Live in Charity) written by Jacques Berthier of the founder of the Taizé community. Currently these are very meaningful for me but you may use whatever chant fits your current spiritual journey.
My prayer for you journey is you will find comfort in G-ds presence as you sing words of peace, prayer, love.