Christian Meditation: A Very Short Guide

1. John Cassian

In about the year 270, a young man named Anthony went out into the Egyptian desert to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Anthony had been born into a wealthy family. His parents died while he was still young, and he inherited enough money to live comfortably. Anthony was a Christian, and he would learn about the faith in church on Sunday mornings. He was especially struck by Jesus’ command to another wealthy young man: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

This command spoke to Anthony. He thought it wise to figure out how much money he should keep for his personal needs. He abandoned his calculations the next Sunday when he heard the Scripture, “Take no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34).

Anthony followed this advice. He sold his property in the village, gave his sister enough money to meet her needs, and gave the rest of the money to the poor. Then he went to live a few miles outside the village in the Egyptian desert.

When Anthony got out there, he found there were already a few people doing the same thing. Anthony was not the first to remove himself from society to “pray without ceasing.” There existed a cultural precedent.

An intriguing question is whether this precedent had any continuity with the Therapeutae. These were Hellenized Jews who also withdrew from society for religious reasons, although the Therapeutae lived as a community rather than as hermits. Philo of Alexandria, writing at about the same time as Jesus walked the earth, describes the way of life of the Therapeutae. They lived in simple huts in the desert outside Alexandria, and they spent their entire day in prayer, singing psalms, and meditating on Scripture. With their frugal diet and frequent fasts, the Therapeutae resemble the Desert Fathers for whom Anthony would subsequently become a model.

There is also the more remote question as to whether the Therapeutae were somehow influenced by fleeting contacts with the asceticism of South Asia. Alexander the Great was in India in the fourth century B.C., and it is known from inscriptions on stone pillars that in the third century B.C., the Emperor Ashoka sent missionaries to the Greeks. Whether these missionaries disappeared without trace, or whether their influence lived on in the form of the Therapeutae, there is too little evidence to say.

All this is speculative. Even if we restrict ourselves to the Christian tradition, we have the examples of the original disciples leaving everything to follow Jesus (Matthew 4) and the first post-Pentecost Christians giving up personal property (Acts 4).

Athanasius’ Life of Anthony gives us a detailed picture of the difficulties one faces when attempting to “pray without ceasing.” Having removed himself from the distractions of society, Anthony came face to face with the distractions in his own mind. He kept thinking about his family and his former possessions. Above all, he was tormented by thoughts of food and sex.

Anthony’s experience of mental distractions turns out to be the common experience of the desert Christians. When a party of travelers visited Egypt toward the end of the fourth century, John of Lycopolis told the visitors to make sure, above all, that “your mind does not suffer from distractions.” He went on to explain: “The entire undertaking becomes pointless when, in conversing with the Lord, one is seduced by opposing thoughts.”

To introduce his method for dealing with these “opposing thoughts,” John of Lycopolis quoted a line from the Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). What this means, said John, is that one needs to actively cultivate stillness (Greek hesychia) as a prerequisite to the more intense forms of prayer.

The value of cultivating of stillness is reiterated by another late fourth-century visitor to the desert Christians, John Cassian.

Cassian was a young monk, originally from Europe, who had spent some time in a monastery in Bethlehem. Not finding the spiritual formation he was looking for, he set out to visit the Desert Fathers of Egypt, accompanied by his friend Germanus. On his return from Egypt, Cassian wrote two books. The Institutes dealt with the organization of monastic life, while the Conferences dealt with the inner or spiritual aspects of this life.

The Conferences is written in the form of interviews with the Desert Fathers that Cassian and Germanus met. Conferences Nine and Ten deal with the subject of prayer and are based on their meetings with Abba Isaac.

Following again 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Abba Isaac explains that the goal of the monk is continual prayer. Success in this endeavor depends on the removal of obstacles. These obstacles include one’s memories and one’s concerns for the things of this world. Only a soul thus purified will be able to “pray without ceasing,” he says. Once the obstacles have been removed, the soul will naturally rise upward. It is only worldly concerns that weigh it down.

Abba Isaac described to Cassian the different types of prayer, including prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of petition, and so on. But the Desert Fathers have discovered that beyond these is a purer form of prayer, which consists solely of the loving contemplation of God. When inspired by the Holy Spirit, says Abba Isaac, the experience is as if the soul is on fire with love for God.

The question is then how to go about removing the hindrances—worldly thoughts and distractions. Cassian’s traveling companion, Germanus, has noticed that one can become distracted without even being aware that this has happened. “One thought follows another, arriving, coming to being, ending and going away—all without the mind noticing,” he says.

Abba Isaac congratulates Germanus on this insight. He is wise even to have made this observation. Abba Isaac then recommends the repeated use of a “formula” to remind oneself of the goal of focusing entirely on God. He suggests that one repeat a verse from the Psalms: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord” (Psalm 70:1). Abba Isaac emphasizes: “The soul must grab fiercely onto this formula, so that after saying it over and over again, after meditating on it without pause, it has the strength to reject and to refuse all the abundant riches of thought.”

One consequence of the resultant simplicity of heart, says Abba Isaac, is that the scriptures now reveal their full meaning.

This tradition of praying by repeating a single verse continues in the Greek-speaking Christian East.

About two centuries after John Cassian, another John, the abbot of a desert monastery on Mount Sinai, wrote a text called the Klimax (“ladder of divine ascent”). For this reason, this seventh-century John is styled John Climacus, or “John of the Ladder.” The notion of a ladder, or series of stages, in prayer is mentioned already in Cassian; the metaphor comes from Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven in Genesis 28:12.

John Climacus describes the manner of prayer of the monks. Achieving stillness requires guarding one’s mind. One knows one’s thoughts but is not enthralled by them. While a monk’s body may go out into the world, the soul remains inside and does not become involved in the world.

Climacus sees continual prayer as both a conversation with God and a union with God. There are three steps in his ladder. “The beginning of prayer is the expulsion of distractions from the very start by monologistos; the middle state is the concentration on what is being said or thought; its conclusion is rapture in the Lord.” Monologistos, “one word,” is by now the standard term for a short prayer intended to free one from distractions, even if this prayer consists of a single thought rather than literally a single word.

A new tradition now emerges—we are not sure exactly when—of using a prayer based on the cry of the blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47). In its simplest form, the wording of this prayer is “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” Most people make it “Jesus Christ, Son of the living God” and describe oneself as “a sinner” at the end of the prayer. Diadochos of Photike, in the sixth century, is among the first to mention this “Jesus prayer.”

The cultivation of hesychia, or “stillness,” becomes progressively established as part of Greek-speaking Eastern Christianity.

Isaac the Syrian was a bishop who left his responsibilities to live as a hermit in the desert. Isaac notes that very few are graced with the higher reaches of contemplative prayer. These reaches are quite different in character from what most people know as prayer, he says, though they may still be called prayer because of their continuity with the earlier stages. He observes that in these Spirit-filled stages, “A man’s nature is deprived of its free will.” One feels guided by the power of the Spirit and can no longer voluntarily control the mind. Rather than praying, it feels is if one is “being prayed.”

Despite the growing strength of the hesychastic tradition, the contemplatives and theologians of the Eastern Church became less and less well-known in the Western Church. One simple reason is that, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, travel became much more difficult. A linguistic divide emerged, too. Fewer and fewer people in the Latin-speaking West were able to read the writings of the Greek-speaking Fathers.

Although Saint Benedict recommended that his monks read the works John Cassian, Cassian’s reports of praying by repeating a single verse or “formula” became largely forgotten in the Latin-speaking West.

2. John Main

The importance of John Cassian’s writings on prayer was rediscovered in the twentieth century by Father John Main.

The man we know as John Main was born as Douglas Main to an Irish Catholic family in London in 1926. Toward the end of the war, he enlisted with the Royal Corps of Signals. After the war, he explored a vocation with the Canons Regular of the Lateran. He found their way of life too restrictive and left the Canons Regular in 1950.

For the next four years, Douglas Main studied law at Trinity College, Dublin. On graduation in 1954, he joined the British Colonial Service in what was then Malaya.

In the course of his official duties, Douglas Main met a Hindu renunciant named Swami Satyananda. It was this Swami Satyananda who in 1955 taught Douglas Main the art of mantra meditation.

Despite Swami Satyananda’s importance, I can find surprisingly little biographical information about him. I did find a photograph of him with Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. That photograph is taken from a book titled Swami Satyananda and Cultural Relations between India and Malaya by V.G. Nair.

Swami Satyananda’s most important influences were the Ramakrishna Order and Swami Shuddhananda Bharati. The latter’s autobiography, Experiences of a Pilgrim Soul, mentions Swami Satyananda’s time with him. In 1947, Swami Shuddhananda told Swami Satyananda: “Go to Kuala Lumpur and start the Shuddha Samaj (Pure Life Society). The means shall seek you by the Divine Grace. Meditate at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., alone, calmly, and commune with the In-Dweller.” It was at the orphanage of the Pure Life Society that Douglas Main met Swami Satyananda.

The pair meditated together for half an hour every week, and Douglas Main would meditate on his own at home every morning and every evening. He later quoted the instructions he received from his teacher:

“Meditating only when you come out to see me will be a frivolity. Meditating once a day will be frivolity. If you are serious and if you want to root this mantra in your heart then this is the minimum undertaking . . . that you meditate first thing in the morning for half an hour and sometime in the evening for half an hour. And during the time of your meditation, there must be in your mind no thoughts, no words, no imaginations. The sole sound will be the sound of your mantra, your word. The mantra is like a harmonic. And as we sound this harmonic within ourselves we begin to build up a resonance. That resonance then leads us forward to our own wholeness. . . . We begin to experience the deep unity we all possess in our own being. And then the harmonic begins to build up a resonance between you and all creatures and all creation and a unity between you and your Creator.”

Main went on to describe the simplicity of the instructions he received:

“I would often ask the swami: ‘How long will this take? How long will it take me to achieve enlightenment?’ But the swami would either ignore my crassness or else would reply with the words that really sum up his teaching and wisdom: ‘Say your mantra.’ In all those eighteen months this was the essential core of everything he had to say: ‘Say your mantra.’”

This style of teaching is more terse than we are used to in the West. It may be more common in Asia.

In 1956 Main returned to Ireland, where he taught law at Trinity College. In 1959 he finally discovered his real vocation and joined the Benedictines at Ealing Abbey. It was here that his novice master told him to stop mantra meditation on the grounds that it wasn’t Christian. He obeyed. Under the name of “John” Main, Douglas Main was ordained a priest in 1963.

In the early 1970s, while headmastering a school in Washington, D.C., Father John discovered John Cassian’s writings on mantra meditation. Now no longer a novice, he took this Christian precedent as his permission to revive the practice of mantra meditation for Christians.

In November 1976 he gave three talks on Christian mantra meditation at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Those talks are the source of John Main’s quotes from Swami Satyananda above.

The year after the Gethsemani talks, Father John established a new Benedictine priory in Montreal, Canada. The priory occupied the old Joseph Décary mansion at 3761 avenue de Vendôme. It was here that Christian meditation groups began to form around him. John Main would give talks and lead a meditation group on Monday and Tuesday evenings. There were three meditation periods per day for those staying at the priory. Father John advised a friend who wanted to start a group in Ireland:

“As long as you are scrupulously honest and only try to teach what you know and don’t mind saying, ‘I don’t know the answer to that,’ I would say start a group wherever you can. You can always use some tapes for the initial stages. The important thing is to meditate. I think a weekly meeting of the group is of enormous help if it can possibly be managed.”

Although the house on the avenue de Vendôme was large, so many people visited the priory that they were short of space. Their visitors even included the Dalai Lama and his entourage. Toward the end of 1980 they were offered the use of an even larger house, the McConnell mansion at 1475 Pine Avenue in Montreal.

John Main died in Montreal on December 30, 1982.

3. Learning Mantra Meditation

I knew nothing of all this during my conventional upbringing in the Church of Scotland. In fact, I had no genuine interest in religion at all until I had a near-death experience in February 1988.

It wasn’t as spectacular as some of the near-death experiences you hear about. I woke up in the middle of the night. It felt as though someone were pressing a heavy boot into my chest. Much later, I learned this could have been a symptom of a minor heart attack.

Next thing I knew, I was studying a ceiling. It slowly dawned on me that that ceiling was the ceiling of my bedroom.

Then I looked down and saw a body lying in a bed. Again, it dawned on me that that bed was my bed, and that body was my body. Not really “me,” I suppose, since “I” was up near the ceiling, looking down.

Then I felt as though I were being pulled up slowly but steadily by a magnetic force. I was drawn toward a hazy light. Then a woman’s voice beside me said, “No, it’s not time yet.” The direction of the magnetic force reversed, and I was drawn back down toward my body. The next morning, I woke up feeling completely normal.

I didn’t know what had happened to me. It was the strangest thing that had ever happened to me. A couple of years later, I read a book that mentioned in passing a near-death experience. That was when I learned what it was.

One consequence of the NDE was that I became very interested in religion. I discovered I could pick up a Christian radio station. We didn’t have such things in the UK. In fact, I think they are rare in Canada. This signal was coming across the border from Blaine, Washington. The programming consisted of a sea of American voices, but once a day a British voice came on. I learned this Bible teacher’s name was Derek Prince. He was to prove to be a great influence on me.

Later that year I signed up for an evening class on Thomas Merton. It was taught by an Anglican priest who had just obtain a PhD on Thomas Merton. I found it fascinating. The next year, I entered the graduate studies faculty at the University of British Columbia to study world religions. Like Thomas Merton, I became interested in Eastern religions as well as Christianity.

I discovered a New Age bookstore in Vancouver that stocked books by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. This India-born holy man had been a physician in Malaya in the 1920s but gave up medical practice to pursue yoga full-time. A prolific writer as well as a yogi, his book Japa Yoga: A Comprehensive Treatise on Mantra Sastra was first published in 1939. You can view a scan of the 1942 edition on the Internet Archive. Sivananda very much saw mantra as a devotional practice, part of bhakti yoga.

I also learned that one of Sivananda’s students had established an ashram in British Columbia, about an hour’s flight inland from Vancouver. The person who founded that ashram was a German woman, Swami Sivananda Radha, who had studied with Swami Sivananda in India in 1955-56. She was quite old by the time I visited the ashram during the period 1990-1992, and she did not live at the ashram any more due to the icy winters and the hilly terrain.

It was at this ashram in British Columbia that I encountered mantra meditation for the first time. Swami Radha had spent her last six weeks in India chanting for five hours a day. There was, though, no time for such intense practice for visitors to the ashram when I was there.

Back in Vancouver, in 1996 I discovered a small Thai Buddhist temple (“wat”). A lot of westerners who get interested in Buddhism go to meditation groups. To me, because I had first learned of Buddhist philosophy at the London Buddhist Vihara in 1980, Buddhism meant monks and monasteries as well as meditation. The Thai Buddhist monastery in Vancouver was actually quite new. I think it had been there only since 1994.

I started going to the temple for chanting and meditation on Sunday evenings. Usually, I was the only one there apart from the monks! I learned that this monastery was one of six Thai Buddhist temples in Canada, all founded by the same person. Viriyang Sirintharo was a senior Thai monk whom the Thais called “Luangphor,” which literally means “Venerable Father.” Viriyang was his given name; Sirintharo was his Pali name, that is his ordination name as a monk.

In 2002 I had the opportunity to ordain as a temporary Buddhist monk at another of Luangphor’s temples for the duration of the rains retreat, which is the three-month period during which it rains a lot in southeast Asia—the monsoon season. In most religious traditions, if you become a monk, that’s it. You’re a monk for life. But in the Buddhism of southeast Asia, they have a tradition whereby young men can ordain as a monk for just one rainy season. And so I spent three months as a monk.

We had to go to Calgary for the ordination ceremony, because to ordain a monk you need what they call a sīmā, which is a sort of formal boundary for the monastery. The sīmā is itself created by a special ceremony with lots and lots of monks. Calgary was the only place where we had a sīmā, which is why we had to go there for the ordination.

Then I lived as a monk at the Thai Buddhist temple in Edmonton for the three months of the rainy season. This was where I encountered mantra meditation for the second time in my life. This time mantra was practiced for the sake of stillness (samatha) rather than devotion (bhakti).

Luangphor was part of what’s called the kammaṭṭhāna tradition. Kammaṭṭhāna literally means workplace—place of work—or you could say, sphere of activity. But it came to mean, in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, a subject of meditation, of which there are traditionally forty.

Most people, if they know only a little bit about the Buddhism of southeast Asia, know that the breath is one possible object of meditation. There are thirty-nine others. And in the kammaṭṭhāna tradition from the forests of Thailand, the object of meditation is commonly the word “buddho.” In this tradition, they understand buddhānussati (“recollection of the Buddha”) to mean mantra recitation. You mentally repeat the word “buddho” to yourself. Perhaps the Indian mantra tradition had been exported across the Bay of Bengal at some point, and from Burma it had found its way to Thailand.

My teacher, Luangphor, learned this practice from an older monk named Ajahn Mun. You can find on the Internet a biography of Ajahn Mun and a book about his practice that describes how he used the “buddho” mantra.

By the way, I once came across across the question, “Why ‘buddho’ and not ‘buddha’?” The answer is that “buddha” is the stem form, which you would never see it in an actual sentence. “Buddho” is the nominative singular, i.e. what what you’d see if it were the subject of a sentence.

Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo taught that samatha meditation with a mantra builds up what he called “mind power.” Once we were walking up near a water reservoir in North Vancouver. Luangphor looked at the reservoir thoughtfully for a few moments. Then he explained that mind power was like the power of water in a reservoir. Normally, our mental energy is like an unharnessed creek. We fritter away our energy on useless thinking. But if we dam the creek, then we build up tremendous power.

I think this particular dam wasn’t used for hydroelectric power, but you get the principle. If we temporarily dam our useless thinking, as we do with a mantra, then we build up mind power.

This mind power can be used for advanced practices such as healing and insight, but it can also be used by ordinary people to make them more effective in their jobs and their lives.

So I spent three months, one rainy season, as a temporary Buddhist monk, doing mantra practice. Then, at the end of the three-month rainy season, I returned to lay life.

In the Theravada Buddhist scheme of things, becoming a monk is the highest possible thing you can do with your life. So, having done the highest possible thing, and come out the other end, I was at a loss for what to do with myself.

It’s interesting how God sometimes reaches us at these times when we’re at loss as to what to do. If we have our own ideas, God can’t get through to us. But if we allow him, then he can reach us.

And so, at the Easter Vigil of 2005, I was received into the Catholic Church. And that was where I came across mantra meditation for the third time in my life.

4. Learning Christian Meditation

There was snow on the ground when I went to my first Christian Meditation meeting. Since snow rarely settles in Vancouver, it must have been January of 2007.

The Christians of fourth-century Egypt called repeating a single verse their “prayer” and the verse they repeated their “formula.” Nowadays we call repeating a few words from Scripture our “meditation” and the words we repeat our “mantra.” Just to add to the confusion, the English word “meditation” has changed its meaning over the years. In the Bible, meditation means to ponder or think about a particular subject. But in our own time, meditation has come to mean any mental activity directed toward a spiritual goal, even if there is no discursive thought involved.

So, just to be clear, what follows are the instructions for repeating a Christian mantra, and that is what is meant here by “meditation.”

We meditate in a seated position. You can sit on the floor, on a straight-backed chair, or on a chair with no back support. This kind of meditation requires staying alert, so I recommend you don’t sit on an easy chair or lie down.

Relax your body. Allow the natural curvature of your spine to keep you upright. Relax your shoulders. Relax your neck. Relax your face and forehead. Relax your jaw. The lips can be ever so slightly parted. The tip of the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth. Place your hands on your lap, one palm resting on top of the other. The two thumbs can gently touch.

Close your eyes.

Silently, in your mind, begin to repeat your mantra. When Father John first started teaching Christians to meditate in the 1970s, he had to explain what a mantra was. Nowadays I think everyone knows what a mantra is.

The mantra most of us use is “Maranatha.” It’s an Aramaic expression that means, “Come, Lord.” It appears in First Corinthians 16:22 in Aramaic and in Revelation 22:20 translated into Greek, where it’s rendered as “Come, Lord Jesus” (ἔρχου, Κύριε Ἰησοῦ). It was evidently a very early prayer of the Christian community. We say it as four, equally stressed syllables: “Ma-ra-na-tha.”

The practice goes through four stages:

Stage One. Here you say the mantra. Father John always emphasized that you must say your mantra from the beginning to the end of your meditation period. Some people reach a pleasant reverie he called the sopor lethalis, using a phrase from John Cassian (Conferences 10.8). They deliberately stop saying the mantra so that they can enjoy their dreamlike state. That’s a mistake. Keep the mantra going.

Stage Two. Now you’ve made a habit of the mantra, it starts saying itself. Your job becomes simply to listen. There’s only a very slight effort needed to set the mantra going. Then it becomes effortless. You just have to attend to it. Here you can metaphorically sit back and enjoy.

Stage Three. You’re still listening to the mantra, but the mantra becomes quieter and quieter. It is as though it is out of focus, or fuzzy, or becoming just a felt vibration. There’s no rule that says you have to force the mantra to be a clear sound. That’s part of the challenge of mantra meditation—not inventing extra rules of your own. The mantra may also seem to have descended deeper into your body, so that it’s sounding in your chest or your belly. In this tradition we don’t make any attempt to control the mantra’s location. Just attend to it as it sounds within.

Stage Four. The mantra becomes so quiet that it fades into silence. You’re still “listening”—it’s just that now you’re “listening” to silence. This progression is why Father John titled his first book Word into Silence. Here you reach common ground with the Cloud of Unknowing and, by implication, with the Centering Prayer of Father Keating.

Father John rarely talked about these stages because he thought people would spend their meditation period wondering what stage they had reached, rather than saying their mantra. I’ve told you the four stages because I think modern people find it supportive to have an idea of where they’re going. But I’ll repeat Father John’s advice that, during your meditation period, evaluating your progress is itself a distraction.

Other distractions can occur. You might be thinking a lot. You might get sleepy. You might notice that your breath has become very slow or deep, or there are long gaps between breaths. Or you might have an agitated meditation period where you keep peaking at your timer.

The response to all of these is the same: “It’s okay.” Just whenever you have a chance, gently and effortlessly return to saying your mantra.

For the timer, you’ll probably find that a travel alarm clock ticks too loudly. For many years I used a digital kitchen timer. Nowadays, like many people, I use an app on the phone. The main one I use is the free version of Insight Timer. There’s all sorts of stuff in that app—guided meditations and groups of some kind—but I never use them. I don’t think I even created an account when I installed the app. I just use the timer. I’ve also used another timer called Serenity, but I think that is for iOS only.

The usual recommendation is to meditate for 2 × 20 minutes per day, carried out as 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes in the afternoon or evening. Father John did 2 × 30 minutes while he was at Ealing Abbey. Then in the priory in Montreal he increased it to 3 × 30 minutes and eventually 4 × 30 minutes.

On a retreat, you might also try the famous triple sit: 3 × 20-minute sits in a row, with 5 minutes of walking meditation in between the sits. For the walking meditation, just walk moderately slowly, either paying close attention to the physical sensations of walking, or else doing mantra meditation as you walk.

What if you live in a noisy environment? If the noise is only slightly distracting, you can try habituating yourself to it. You may eventually be able to meditate regardless. You can also try meditating at different times of day, for example very early in the morning. If none of these work, some options to create your own quiet include foam earplugs, industrial earmuffs, or noise-canceling headphones.

Meditating with other people helps to maintain your motivation and provides Christian fellowship. There are links to Christian Meditation groups in dozens of countries around the world on the World Community for Christian Meditation website. Some groups meet over the Internet. The Meditation Chapel hosts even more online meditation groups. The WCCM Centre for Peace in Bonnevaux, France, hosts residential Christian Meditation retreats.

What is saying a mantra all about?

One thing Christian meditation is not about is solving psychological problems. Some people come to meditation hoping to deal with anxiety or depression. Research shows that meditation works best as a helpful adjunct to professional treatment.

John Cassian reports that the ascetic Christians of the fourth century saw the mantra as part of their asceticism. Abba Isaac told Cassian that the meditator “casts off and rejects the rich and full material of all manner of thoughts and restricts [himself] to the poverty of this one verse” (Conferences 10.11). Their asceticism extended even to their form of prayer.

Jesus’ advice to one who would follow him was “let him deny himself” (ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν, Matthew 16:24). Certainly some understand those words ascetically to imply fasting, vigils, and the like. Father John understood ἀπαρνέομαι in the simple, etymological sense of “deny, disown, repudiate (either another person or myself), disregard” (Strong’s 533). He often said that when your attention is on the mantra, it’s away from yourself. Mantra meditation is a practical way to let go of your self-centered thought processes. You could see this as what other traditions call “surrender.” All the complexity you routinely superimpose on your experiences is abandoned in favor of simply being present.

And at deeper levels of silence, says Father John, you can verify in your own experience the words of Romans 8:11. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is also alive in you.

5. The Prayer of John Main

“Heavenly Father, open our hearts to the silent presence of the spirit of your Son. Lead us into that mysterious silence where your love is revealed to all who call, ‘Maranatha,’ ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’”