I Get Letters - The Jesus Prayer

By: Brian Robertson

Jesus Ceiling


One of the nice things about doing this blog, something you often don’t see, are the kind emails and such that come my way. Some of them, of course, are offering to meet me so as to avoid my eventual descent into the fiery pits of hell, but I more or less filter them out.

Many are questions and ask about various things, but I received one today that I thought I’d print here and do my best to answer:

One thing I don’t understand about the Jesus Prayer that makes me a bit uneasy. The prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy.” The full version, I think, is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I’m not sure about how the sinner part makes me feel, frankly, and I usually leave it off. I also wonder why we are asking Jesus to have mercy? Is it like we are in danger of getting zapped by wrath? It feels a bit like groveling and I’m not sure I can fit the pieces together. In spite of those concerns, I do find it helpful, and sometimes just use, “Lord Jesus Christ” and leave it at that. Any thoughts?


First, L. W., thanks for taking the time to write and for visiting the site, and you’re always welcome to do both.

I can relate to what you’re asking — I had the same mini-confusion when the prayer first came to my attention and I began using it. I’ll try and offer up a way of looking at it all that worked for me, almost instantly, and it has to do with making sure you understand the intention behind the prayer and being aware what the words mean as they resonate within you.

When I say, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy,” I’m mindful of the fact that the word translated “mercy” — eleeō – the sense of which means, “to compassionate” as we might think of as being by Divine Grace. The “have mercy on me” phrase in practice is concise, rhythmic, and acts as a kind of shorthand for the deeper attitude behind it — “Lord Jesus Christ, your only nature is compassion, your heart is boundless Love, and I need to know those things in my life now.”

That’s a mouthful. “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy” is certainly easier and more manageable!

So, if we cut out all the wrath of God stuff, it’s not a question of having to butter up God in order to avoid getting zapped. After all, Jesus didn’t say that you have to cajole God with oodles of flattery so as not to catch a stray lightning bolt between your eyes or a attract a passing locust plague down your chimney.

seraphimsm.pngIf you look at the prayer the way I’m suggesting, there is something ultimately revealing and comforting in the process of asking God to turn compassion and goodness toward you, perhaps akin to the comforting spirit behind the words: “Lord, make haste to help me.” But there is something more to this which I think we must consider: God is Love, not wrath, and just as we are asking Christ to bring us under his wing and give attention to our life, we are also (perhaps more to the point) reminding ourselves that if we feel God’s love is absent or pointed away from us it is because in the midst of a busy life with distractions and worries, we are the ones who have turned away from our awareness of God’s Presence. It’s no accident that one of the many descriptive names given God in the Hindu Tradition is, “The Eternal Companion.” The problem is that sometimes we simply overlook the obvious, and the Jesus Prayer can be seen as our bringing the always Present God back into focus.

All in all, though, I’d have to say that the sense of becoming aware of God’s Presence expressed as Lord Jesus Christ turning to us in His infinite compassion and love is poetically beautiful and is terrifically stunning as an image to use in praying the Jesus Prayer. At least that has been my experience. Ponder this and see if you can speak the prayer with the above in mind. See if it doesn’t produce some changes in how it moves you as you can, quite possibly, begin to feel and realize the true power inherent in the Prayer.

Hope that helped!


Brian Robertson



[(Where’s that ceiling?)

In response to the e-mail question about the Jesus Prayer, it’s related to your previous post. Saying ‘have mercy on me, a sinner’ is, I think, kind of like saying ‘I’m just a stupid man’.

‘Have mercy on me’ isn’t meant to imply that without it, we’re automatically condemned, it just means, ‘PLEASE, overlook my human shortcomings, and love me anyway, and stay close while I try to overcome my human shortcomings.’



[I don’t know the exact location and I’m trying to track it down. I thought this description might be of help:

The word Pantocrator is of Greek origin meaning “ruler of all”. Christ Pantocrator is an icon of Christ represented full or half-length and full-faced. He holds the book of the Gospels in his left hand and blesses with his right hand.

The icon portrays Christ as the Righteous Judge and the Lover of Mankind, both at the same time. The Gospel is the book by which we are judged, and the blessing proclaims God’s loving kindness toward us, showing us that he is giving us his forgiveness.

Although ruler of all, Christ is not pictured with a crown or scepter as other kings of this world. The large open eyes look directly into the soul of the viewer. The high curved forehead shows wisdom. The long slender nose is a look of nobility, the small closed mouth, the silence of contemplation.

It is the tradition of the Church to depict “God is with us” by having the a large Pantocrator icon inside of the central dome, or ceiling of the church.

The oldest known Pantocrator icon was written in the sixth century. It was preserved in the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai desert. This remote location enabled the image to survive the destruction of most icons during the iconoclastic era in Byzantine history, 726 to 815 when most icons were destroyed.]


[Whoever yo are —you ar remarkably narcissistic and enamored of yourself and your idea. In’t is God with whom we shuld be enamored. Do you think God edits out those whose whose thought
are not in synce with his own. You will delte this as you are thretenened and an angry mam.
But, this is God talking to you. He is suggesting you examine your narcissism , self centeredness and illbegotten idea of self-importance. It is love and not ideas that win the Heart of the Lord.
Maybe one day, after self examination, you will come to see that it is not you purview to decide whose ideas are acceptable and whose are not. -birdie byrd]


Thank you so much for this writing. Having grown up in a strict Catholic environment in the 1950s where fear of God along with guilt for simply being born was the norm, I pulled away from religion until I was in a 12-step program in my 30s and was told I could “hire my own God.” So of course I hired a loving, compassionate God and have had nothing but blessings in my life ever since. But I still shyed away from Jesus and the scriptures until I found Christian Mystics. You write about the Jesus I knew deep down but could not find in the popular religions of our day – not judgmental and damning but gentle and caring and understanding of our human frailties. Thank you for this particular writing has it helps me understand the truly loving meaning behind the words that always used to make me feel unloveable and unworthy. God and Jesus ARE LOVE.]



Thank you for such a kind and open note. I know just what you’re saying from a slightly different angle. I was raised Christian, then spent thirty years roaming around a number of religions and approaches, always saying, “They’re all the same.” Trouble is, I always seemed to have an aversion to Jesus, the Jesus I was led to see represented Christianity. It seemed to me that if God is Love, and God speaks to all, then I had to be honest and find out for myself, in study as well as prayer and what little spiritual life I could muster in myself.

The next ten years of the journey showed me that the religion ABOUT Jesus was quite often not the spirituality OF Jesus. In a way, it’s all our journeys. It is the journey of the Bible, from a Tribal, limited view of God to Jesus’ clarification in teaching, life and very profoundly in what appeared to be death.

In short, if you read the gospels carefully and openly (what a combination) you find the only words of real anger Jesus spoke were never words against our frailties, but words against those who hid behind the Law and behind their pontifications so as to make others feel unloved and unworthy.

Thank you again for the kind words and may God’s Love only glimpsed at in the life of Jesus be yours.




[Soooo, God’s e-mail name is birdie byrd? ["but,this is God talking to you"] … actually,it appears a spell check is in order if you have a point to make. thanks. Brian, thank you for listening to the Holy Spirit and penning such thought provoking blogs.]


[I thought your readers might like this reflection on dreams and how they were removed from the Christian life for 1500 years:

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent – 2007

In 738 BC, the tribes paying tribute to Assyria, Syria (Aram) and northern Israel (Ephraim) had decided to stop paying tribute to Assyria, (see: 2 Kings 16) but the leaders of the tribe of Judah refused to join in alliance with the two embattled tribes because they as yet had no quarrel with Assyria. So the two tribes attempted to overthrow Ahaz in order to replace him with a king who would be more amenable to their cause. But the tribe of Judah held firm to their belief that God would protect his anointed king and his city (Psalms 46:1-4). Yet, when imminent danger threatened, the king and the people began to waiver. It is at this juncture that Isaiah tells them to “remain tranquil and do not fear” (7:4) because the attack would fail and the northern Israeli State would soon end. In the midst of doubt, King Ahaz asks for a sign and Isaiah prophesies:
“Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Emmanuel” (Jewish Study Bible Tanakh Translation).
Here, the word Almah [H5959] is correctly represented as ‘young woman’, which is relevant because the first-born son’s holiness is the underlying factor for such a figure. This holy first-born will be called “Immanuw’el”: [H6005] “God [is] with us”.

Matthew’s birth narrative was written in support of Jesus’ legal place in Joseph’s Davidic lineage. The child Jesus, like many ‘Sons of God’, mythical savior-figures of the ancient world, will be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a ‘virgin’ (Parthenos – [G3933] virgin, marriageable maiden or man who has abstained from intercourse), not just a ‘young woman’ as Isaiah prophesied. Matthew’s birth-narrative is important in two ways: 1) it demonstrates the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to Diaspora Jews, and 2) it presents the foundational premises for an authentic ‘life-death-rebirth deity’ to the Greco-Roman cultures, both of which have witnessed many claims to these titles. But only Jesus is the authentic one-and-only ‘Son of God’. And this claim has proven itself, just as the Hebrew test assures, because Jesus’ messianic mission did not come to naught (see Acts 5:37-39); in fact, it changed the world, bringing widely divergent cultures into unified faith through the greatest story ever told.

Matthew’s account informs us that Joseph has a dream in which the odd circumstances of Jesus’ birth are explained by an angel who tells him to name the child “Jesus”: [Iesous - G2424] Yeshua/Joshua – “Yahweh is salvation”. Subsequently, the Magi come to worship the holy child because they have followed the signs fulfilling the star prophecy, the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, Joseph has another dream in which he is told to depart for Egypt for the child’s safety, Joseph has another dream that lets him know when it is safe to return, and then Joseph has yet another dream that allows him to determine that he should take the child to the safety of Nazareth in Galilee.

Dreams and signs are the foundational structure for important premises of faith and our faith-history. But, in the 4th century a most unfortunate occurrence tore this premise out of the faith-life of the people. St. Jerome was commissioned by Damasus I, Bishop of Rome, in 382 CE to revise the Latin Bible by translating directly from the Hebrew Tanakh rather than from the Greek Septuagint, as it had been previously translated. Within the translation Jerome produced we find an astounding error, wherein he translates the Hebrew word Anan [H6049-6051] seven out of ten instances correctly as: witchcraft, (soothsaying, sorcery, divining, augury, conjuration, or otherwise to ‘bring clouds)’. But in the remaining three occurrences of the word anan, he translates erroneously by rendering anan as “observing dreams”. The occurrences of Jerome’s correctly translated passages are: Deuteronomy 18:14, Judges 9:37, 2 Kings 21:6, Isaiah 2:6 and 57:3, Jeremiah 27:9, and Micah 5:11. Jerome’s mistranslated passages are as follows: Deuteronomy 18:10 (observet somnia), Leviticus 19:26 (observabitis somnia) and 2 Chronicles 33:6 (observabat somnia). Scholars have pointed out the curious fact that Jerome studied and collected the sophisticated masterworks of Greek and Latin pagan authors, and by comparison to these, he considered biblical authors inferior and lacking in finesse. Interestingly, Jerome came to immerse himself exclusively in biblical scholarship as the result of a dream that profoundly affected him (which appears below this homily).

St. Thomas Aquinas’ great work Summa Theologica, based on reason and logic, served to reinforce Jerome’s position. But at the end of his life, before completing his great work, he too had a dream that then caused him to abandon the Summa, saying, “I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems like straw, and I now await the end of my life” (Victor White, OP, God and The Unconscious, 1961).

Fortunately for us, the last half of the twentieth century provided Western Christianity with an opportunity to reassess its scriptural heritage by providing new biblical translations made directly from extant copies of original manuscripts in their original languages into various other languages. Through this process, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation errors that had, in effect, destroyed an important link between God and humanity by forbidding attention to dreams and their interpretation, were discovered and corrected; thus ending a fifteen-hundred-year neglect of the individual’s personal interactions with God through dreams.
Today’s Gospel message shows how important dreams are to living the Catholic Christian faith, our rightful inheritance. As we consider this, we might also recall Peter’s Speech at Pentecost in which he quotes the passage from Joel in Acts 2: 16-21:
“Then afterward I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my spirit” (Joel 3:1-2).

O Beloved, prepare us to find the Christ more fully manifest in us this Christmas season. Open our hearts and minds to hear You in our dreams and in our wakefulness. Send us the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that Your people may again become agents of Your ongoing Creation. Amen.

Jerome’s Dream:
While at Antioch, engaged in the discernment process of potential monks, Jerome became ill and had the following dream, which he recorded:
Suddenly, I was caught up in the Spirit and dragged before the Judgment Seat. The light was so bright there, and those standing around the Seat were so radiant, that I threw myself to the ground and dared not to look up.
A voice asked me who and what I was.
“I am a Christian,” I replied.
“You are lying,” said the Judge. “You are a follower of Cicero, not of Christ. For where your treasure is, there also is your heart.”
Instantly, I became dumb. He ordered me to be scourged and, along with the strokes of the lash, I was tortured more harshly by the fire of conscience. . . .
I began to cry and wail, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, have mercy on me.” My cry could be heard amid the sound of the lash.
At last, the bystanders fell down at the knees of the Judge and asked him to have pity on my youth, and give me a chance to repent. The Judge might still inflict torture on me, they insisted, should I ever again read the works of pagans. . . .
Accordingly, I swore an oath calling upon God’s name: “Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or if even again I read such, I have denied you!”
On taking the oath I was dismissed.

After the dream had ended, Jerome records his reaction to it thus:
I returned to the upper world, and when I opened my eyes they were drenched with tears. Everyone was surprised. My distress convinced them all. . . . My shoulders were black and blue, and I felt the bruises long after I awoke from my sleep. . . .
I called to witness the Judgment Seat before which I lay and the fearful judgment which was held over me – that this experience was no mere sleep or idle dream, such as those by which we are often mocked.
After that, I read the books of God with a greater zeal than I had been giving to the books of men (St. Jerome, Letter XXII, to Eustochium, 30).

Merry Christmas,