The Difference between the Jesus Prayer and Meditation

Frederica Matthewes-Green | 28 December 2021

An emailer  asked me to distinguish between various kinds of meditation, like someone sitting and thinking only about a word like “Love” or “Peace,” and how that differs from the Jesus Prayer. I replied:

Those methods, it seems to me, aim at the prayer experience. It is a search for balance, peace, etc.

The Jesus Prayer is a search for Jesus. Right from the start, we are looking for a person.

What’s more, we know the person is already here, and our problem is an inability to sense him. The prayers accustom us to sensing his presence.

So these two experiences engage different parts of the mind. Anytime you are focusing on an abstract concept, like “peace,” you have certain expectations, and certain parts of your brain engage. But when you are looking for a person, it’s a different and I think a much larger part of your brain. When we focus on a person, it’s much more comprehensive. It’s open. You don’t know what you’re looking for, while “Peace” lulls you into a simple, single-track focus, searching for a concept you already know.

In the case of the Jesus Prayer, we are searching not just for a person, but for one who is not providing any evidence to the five senses. So when we begin this adventure, we don’t even know what kind of thing (person) we will find. We are alert and perhaps bewildered, we might be bored and frustrated, but we keep pulling ourselves together and trying again.

You can see how that’s a very different goal and process from composing yourself to think about an abstract word or anticipate an inner state. When a person encounters another person, love can happen. Thinking about an abstract concept doesn’t do that. It takes two persons, an “I” and a “Thou,” for love to take place.

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