By The Rt. Rev. Chandler Jones
Bishop Suffragan, DEUS APA
Your desire to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and mystical communion with God is a wonderful movement and grace of the Holy Ghost. Prayer is an art, but it is also, and most fundamentally, a discipline of order and rule of life, which brings structure to our lives and continually sets us on the path to God. It is vital for one's own spiritual life to develop and rigorously maintain a rule of daily prayer and devotion, for the freedom of the Spirit only takes on its fullest expression and works most powerfully when there is consistency and regularity in the life of the soul. 'Order brings freedom' says Saint Augustine. I would encourage you to develop the holy habit of regular, daily, patterned and directed prayer - most especially I should recommend the daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, which is the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily work and round of prayer to God which unites us to the prayer of the Lord Jesus our Head and to the prayer of the whole Body of the Church in paradise and on earth and across the world. The Offices are opus Dei, the work of God, the prayer of the whole Church throughout time and space. We contribute to it and share in it by our participation in the Divine Offices.
Personal devotions are also essential for stoking the fires of the Spirit and cultivating a personal relationship with God. The affective and personal embodiment of piety is irreplaceable in the spiritual life. I do recommend, and use myself, both the Western Dominican Rosary, the traditional rosary of the Catholic West, and the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart, which is characteristic of Eastern Orthodoxy. Both the Jesus Prayer and the Western Rosary function in a similar manner, in that they produce an effect of meditation and recollective silence in which we may ponder the mysteries of salvation and offer to God the prayer of our innermost being. They are not at all 'vain repeititon' or 'rote prayers,' for like the Offices, they create a sacred space and order in which one may contemplate the love and presence of God.
With the Rosary, 15 Mysteries recounting the life of Our Lord, the totality of the Gospel, are contemplated with the three most basic prayers of the Western Christian liturgy, the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria and the Gloria Patri. The Rosary is a recitation of and meditation on the beauty of the Gospel as found in the New Testament.
The Jesus Prayer is a way by which the full theological faith of the Church regarding her Lord and the testimony of our common and personal relationships with Him, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,' are brought through the intellect and speech into the heart, there to take on a wordless and imageless communion with God that penetrates into the very Life and Light of the Holy Trinity. By constant recitation of the Jesus Prayer one learns to fulfill the New Testament command, 'pray without ceasing.'
Both forms of prayer are absolutely Christ-centred, objective in character and tradition, and authorised by the Church through the hallowed use of centuries and generation upon generation. 'Time tested, Mother Church approved.' We avoid idiosyncrasies and theological error, as well as atomism and subjectivism, when we use the Church's approved means of prayer.
Practically speaking, I would recommend one form of prayer or the other at first, and that you begin to use the aid to prayer on a daily basis, slowly at first and as time allows, and then permit your attraction to and need for the devotion to grow over time. If you have questions, please let me know and I shall be happy to assist. Being a traditional Anglo-Catholic, I have more of a historically-based and aesthetic penchant for the Rosary, which was revived in the Anglicanism by the Tractarian Revival. But the Jesus Prayer is equally important and useful and has become beloved of Anglicans in recent years.
In all there is a wonderful Trinity of the spiritual life corresponding to the Three Persons of the Godhead: 1. The Mass 2. The Offices and 3. Personal prayer and devotion. With these in continual use one can grow into the illumined and unitative state of prayer. The integration of these three aspects of prayer is vital to a healthy Christian experience.