REVIEW From Scott Cairns Author of Short Trip to the Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven (HarperOne)

Professor, Director, Creative Writing Program University of Missouri

In his book, The Sacrament of Love, the 20th Century Orthodox theologian, Paul Evdokimov observes: “It is not enough to say prayers; one must become, be prayer, prayer incarnate.  It is not enough to have moments of praise.  All of life, each act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer.  One should offer not what one has, but what one is.”

I believe him.

Even so, how—one must wonder amid the distraction, the busyness and the roaring cacophony of contemporary life—does such a desirable becoming come about?

In their new film (and its accompanying book by the same title), Father John McGuckin and Dr. Norris Chumley offer an intimate insight into an answer, the ancient and efficacious practice of noetic prayer, the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer.

The pair take us with them as they retrace the journeys of early and modern saints whose love of God has drawn them and countless others into the stillness, the inner quiet that avails a profound sense of God’s utter and absolute nearness.  These  two men serve concurrently as our guides and as our fellow pilgrims journeying from the first monastic enclaves of Egypt, the Holy Mountain of Greece, the forests of Romania and of the Ukraine, and finally the majestic churches of Russia.

At every stop, the pilgrim is offered unusually intimate insights into the lives of those who have been called to lives of prayer.  At each successive stop, one increasingly comes to apprehend that this calling is not only for monks and nuns, but is a vocation to which each of us has been called.

One comes to see that, as Paul Evdokimov has averred, these are men and women who are not merely saying prayers, but are becoming prayer; these are men and women who are actively making of their very persons a continuing hymn of praise.

In his Ages of the Spiritual Life, Evdokimov has written:  “…[T]he invocation of the name of Jesus makes the grace of his Incarnation universal, allowing each of us our personal share and disposing our hearts to receive the Lord…  The “prayer of the heart” frees and enlarges [the heart] and attracts Jesus to it …  When Jesus is drawn into the heart, the liturgy becomes interiorized and the Kingdom is in the peaceful soul.  The Name dwells in us as its temple and there the divine presence transmutes and Christifies us.”

May it be so.

And may this astonishing and bold new film, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, assist countless others in the recovery of this ancient path to union with Christ our God.