Approaching the midpoint of a long period of desert wandering, I was introduced to the Jesus Prayer. As I will explain, below, the experience was, for me, transformative.
According to The Way of the Pilgrim, which I was reading at the time, the mere repetition of this prayer will have a profound spiritual effect on anyone who is willing to repeat it until it becomes an internalized, almost unconscious process. Indeed, as I understood it, one need not necessarily believe in God or even be praying with a sincere heart— not in the beginning —just start praying:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have Mercy on Me a Sinner
No other approach I can imagine would have persuaded me to pray during that time, but that understanding of the Jesus Prayer really hit the spot. It allowed me to pray with a clear conscience for the first time in years and became a significant source of serenity in my otherwise troubled life. Indeed, I began praying myself to sleep every night, reciting the prayer to the natural rhythm of my breath. And while a superstitious mentality might attribute a kind of magic to the words themselves, I suspect that the mere willingness to repeat the prayer reflects the first stages of a more profound repentance which is then reinforced by the words of the prayer, together with the grace of God. In any case, the importance of that prayer in my own life can hardly be overestimated. A few years later, I compiled a paraphrased scriptural montage to go with it—to which I later added a Trinitarian doxology (see The Jesus Prayer +).