Blind Bartimaeus shouted out into the crowd, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)
This cry of Bartimaeus for mercy and healing is a prayer that Christians through the centuries have used to ask for God’s nearer presence in their lives. It is often referred to as the Jesus Prayer. Variations of the prayer include, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Another phrase used to invite God’s healing presence into one’s life is the Aramaic word “maranatha” which means, Come Lord. Come Lord Jesus.
Some people use a phrase like this throughout the day as a mantra, repeating it many times so that it becomes a part of one’s being. Rather than praying many words, one uses some short phrase or breath prayer to focus one’s intention to live each day in the presence of God. The prayer is not meant to be a distraction but an act of self-dedication asking that our hearts, our minds and imaginations may be drawn closer to God.
In the Scriptures there are various pleas that have been used by people seeking God’s nearer presence. For Bartimaeus it was a specific plea that he might receive his sight. For us it is often a plea that God’s healing gifts will be granted to those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, or that we might be healed of our own spiritual blindness. But beyond specific intentions, our prayer can be a simple offering of ourselves to God, trusting that God will do for us better things than we can imagine. It is a prayer that God’s will be done in our lives.
When I use a word, or a breath prayer, or the Jesus prayer in my own practice, I am often not focusing on the words I say but on the intent of my heart to be present for God — to be healed of the ghosts of the past and to let the Spirit pray in me when I don’t know how to pray. Paul speaks of this in the Letter to the Romans where he writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26) “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” can very easily be this kind of prayer – one that doesn’t try to take control of a situation in order to manipulate an outcome, but rather asks that God’s mercy may surround us with healing grace and work in us those things that need to be accomplished.
Much of our journey into God arises spontaneously without the help of intellectual processes. We receive intuitions of truth. Simple words or a momentary thought can acknowledge these insights. We don’t have to do anything with them, necessarily. Our response can simply be a little interior word “surging up from the depths of our spirit, the expression of one’s whole being.” (The Cloud of Unknowing) And this little word, bursting from the depths of one’s spirit, may touch the heart of God more than some long prayer or discourse. That is not to discount liturgies that support community prayer; but a little word like “Help”, or “My God”, or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” may be all that is required to turn us around to God’s embrace.