Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
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The Chi Rho symbol, pictured here from the Book of Kells, is a traditional abbreviation of the Greek word “Christos” or Christ.

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the connection between the spiritual practice of meditation — the Jesus Prayer in particular — and justice:

If we take justice to mean “to render to each what is due,” we may have some understanding of how this relates. Practice of the Jesus Prayer increases focus and builds a habit that helps to drive out wandering thoughts and pacify our emotions.

Internally, then, it helps us render to each part of ourselves what is due. Rather than being tossed around by vagrant thoughts and emotions and appetites, we are able to stay in the present and, more importantly, coram Deo.

Furthermore, beginning by rendering to God what is due, we do not end there. Indeed, love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40).

I go on to note the work of Christian Miller regarding the emotion that Jonathan Haidt calls “elevation.” Basically, there is a correlation between virtuous examples in one’s life and one’s own degree of virtuous behavior.

Thus, I write,

It would appear that having more such examples in our lives would, then, increase our tendency “to acknowledge all men’s rights.” Virtue, including justice, has a contagious quality through good examples, be they parents, elders, friends, or even the lives of the saints. Inspired by others, we are more likely to think, “Maybe I can do that too.” This can be seen as empirical support for the saying of St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

The Jesus Prayer relates in several ways, as I note more fully in the article. One thing that I note is that the Jesus Prayer heightens one’s moral sensitivity and self-control. The formation of a habit of constant prayer involves transferable skills to other virtuous habits as well. Through practicing the Jesus Prayer, one can become more calm, self-controled, and virtuous, and in the process one serves as an example to others, which, again, correlates with more virtuous behavior not only in oneself but in others as well.

Thus, this seemingly individual spiritual practice, done rightly, can have a positive social effect as well.

With regards to social justice in particular, in addition to asking what laws and social structures may or may not help relieve the plight of the poor, perhaps we should also ask which spiritual practices will inspire others (and ourselves) to be more generous, hard working, and hospitable. Or, put simply, what sort of spiritual capital do we personally need to cultivate in order to better encourage human flourishing for all? While by no means a comprehensive recipe, I would argue that the Jesus Prayer is one, too-often-overlooked ingredient.

Read my full article, “Justice and the Jesus Prayer,” at Ethika Politika here.


  • Curt Day

    The sentence that covers everything is this:

    With regards to social justice in particular, in addition to asking what laws and social structures may or may not help relieve the plight of the poor, perhaps we should also ask which spiritual practices will inspire others (and ourselves) to be more generous, hard working, and hospitable.

    Individual gifts and charity is not enough to bring justice to the poor, changing laws and social structures, including kinds of economies, is also needed. But those who are comfortable will show the most resistance to necessary changes.

    One thing I mentioned on my blog that I think should be considered in changing social structures is the current battle between the intrinsic value assigned to each person in the The Declaration Of Independence and our current Capitalist system that only recognizes the extrinsic value of people.

    • Dylan Pahman

      This post is about spiritual practice and its social effects. I do not claim them to be the complete recipe but one “ingredient” among others necessary for human flourishing. Accordingly, in the sentence you quote, I said “in addition” not “instead.” Discussions of laws, social structures, individual gifts, charity, and capitalism, while certainly important, are off the subject of this post.

      • Curt Day

        Please realize that when I said “the sentence that covers everything,” I was complimenting and showing appreciation for your statement that followed. Because this is exactly what Martin Luther King was trying to get across when he said that it isn’t enough to flip a few coins to a beggar, we must also ask what structures are causing so many to be poor.

        BTW, it wasn’t my intention to bring attention to specific laws and such. Rather, I was looking to agree where I can.

  • Catholic facing east

    Synergeia and the Coram Dei – a good note to end the day on.