Chanting Practice for Christians
For a Christian, the main spiritual practice, besides attending church services and Bible studies, seems to be prayer. It is not easy to formulate a prayer. It involves: 1. knowledge of the Christian teaching, 2. awareness of the immediate concern of the person or group conducting the prayer, and 3. expression of faith, willingness to follow divine guidance instead of one's selfish interests, and good will toward all. A prayer usually lasts for only a short time, but the difficulty one encounters in life may linger on indefinitely. After all that one can think of has been uttered in a prayer, what more can be done to sustain one in the light of the Christian teaching? Bible study is a good alternative to prayer. Is there any other spiritual practice in the Christian tradition that may be of great help but does not demand much use of reasoning? Indeed, there is one maintained in the Russian Orthodox Church.
The practice is to repeat a short prayer continuously; and the prayer, called the "Prayer of Jesus," is as follows: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
If a Christian forms the habit of repeating (silently or audibly) this prayer daily, at a definite time for a certain number of repetitions, e.g., 1,000 repetitions continuously, then it will become easier for him or her to establish a spiritual affinity with the Grace of Jesus. In time of difficulty or crisis, a Christian who is accustomed to this practice can easily or even automatically rely on this practice to stay in touch with the divine Grace. Due to the shortness of this prayer, continuous repetition of it becomes a kind of spiritual chanting. Hence, the usual employment of reasoning in a prayer is bypassed and one may readily become absorbed in the spiritual communion that is beyond words and conceptuality.
The teachings on this practice as preserved in the Russian Orthodox Church include more advanced training for the more devoted Christians. They include silent repetitions done in solitude for years until the prayer is repeated automatically with each heartbeat. A Christian attaining such mastery often exhibits an ability to provide spiritual healing of diseases or perform exorcism effectively. Interested readers may consult the following book: On the Prayer of Jesus, Ignatius Brianchaninov, tr. by Father Lazarus, Element Books.
There are many good reasons and benefits for ordinary people to adopt a chanting practice. I have written an article, "On Chanting 'Amitabha'," which contains detailed explanations. Christian readers may simply substitute "Amitabha" with "Jesus" or the "Prayer of Jesus" and find the reasoning similarly applicable. When people ask me for advice, I often recommend a chanting practice. To Christians seeking my advice I recommend chanting the "Prayer of Jesus" so that they may get the spiritual help within a familiar context based on a faith already established in their hearts. I hope that the spiritual growth they will cultivate through this practice would eventually carry them upward toward higher spiritual quests.
Thanks to Ann Klein for editing this article.
March 3, 1996