The Jesus Prayer is an ecumenical event! It is written by a Catholic monastic who returned to faith during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. It is written about the Jesus Prayer, which has its origins in Eastern Orthodoxy beginning with the 5th century St. Hesychias (from whom hesychastic prayer, a form of contemplative prayer gets its name). And it is published by InterVarsity Press, a publisher most closely associated with thoughtful evangelical scholarship.
The book is an extended meditation and primer on praying the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Each of the brief chapters takes one word, or at most one phrase of the prayer and engages in a theological reflection upon that word, and then concludes with an exercise in praying the prayer. The book concludes with practical encouragements about praying the prayer daily (he suggests at least one 20 minute time of prayer) and helps regarding place, the role of community, the value of “fathers and mothers” or spiritual directors and the relation of the Prayer to the church and sacraments. Following the conclusion is an Appendix that goes deeper into the roots of the prayer.
What I appreciated about this book was how deeply theological this book was even as it was teaching a practice of contemplative prayer. Talbot is not interested in by-passing the head to reach the heart. He weaves this theological reflection into personal ministry narratives that bring the awesome truths of the incarnation, the Trinity, the work of the Spirit and more down to every day life.
I mentioned the ecumenical character of this book and this may either be winsome or off-putting, depending on how you think about such things. Talbot is unabashedly Catholic as he talks about Mary or the Eucharist, and yet his writing is irenic, framed in such a way to emphasize agreements and commonalities, while aware of historic differences. I found myself thinking that if ever the historic divisions in the church were healed, it would no doubt be through individuals like him, and perhaps Christians across these different communions who met together to pray the Jesus Prayer.