This week I’m excited to feature an excerpt from Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. I love the way that Phoebe turns to ancient wisdom to help us live with more joy in our life. In the excerpt below, Phoebe talks about arrow prayers, which can be defined as brief prayers “shot up like an arrow to God.” The practice of saying arrow prayers can restore a measure of joy and equanimity to us during challenging times. I hope you enjoy this excerpt and learn a new way to live with joy!
Arrow prayers remind us that even when we are alone, we are really never alone. We are surrounded by a team, an ethereal community, a great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1). We can reach the Creator of the universe with one sentence prayed from our anxious, weary, aching hearts, shooting up like an arrow to his own heart. He sends us back “stabs of joy,” in the words of C. S. Lewis. He sends his angels, as well as the saints in heaven and on earth who regularly intercede for us with prayers and tears. God is with us; we are never alone. All we need to do is call upon him. In his presence “is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Arrow prayers and praying the Hours are intimately connected. Praying the Hours regularly allows us to engrave the Psalms in our hearts and gives us an arsenal of arrow prayers in times of need. The Twelfth Hour prayer, for example, includes these verses from the Psalms, all of which I have used as arrow prayers at different times:
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications.
(Psalm 130: 1–2)
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me.
(Psalm 138: 7)
LORD, I cry out to You; Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
(Psalm 141: 1)
When these verses are repeated daily, they build a reserve to draw upon for their spontaneous use. Spontaneity is not a reliable way to develop an arrow prayer habit, however. Most people, when they are guided to use arrow prayers, are also guided to the times to use them, such as . . . my prayers to calm anxious thoughts before bed. Some spiritual fathers advise praying a certain number of arrow prayers (usually the Jesus Prayer) per day, designating a time and using a prayer rope, prayer beads, or a rosary to help count them. This deliberate practice allows them to arise more naturally as we go through our days and find ourselves in times of need.
I find arrow prayers especially helpful when I am angry. Anxiety and fear often go hand and hand with anger, and anger can rise up in ways that are not conducive to relationships, especially to raising children. Anger and fear are passions and most certainly joy thieves. In the heat of the moment, I can certainly count backward from ten to keep my voice down, but I can also ask God for his mercy (I usually do both). I have found that those instances of wanting to yell in anger are fewer and farther between when I am intentional about daily praying arrow prayers. Praying this way has also given me a tool for helping my children manage their own strong emotions. When my children were younger, unable to control their tempers or in the middle of a meltdown, I would hold them tightly in my arms and tell them, “Take a deep breath and say the Jesus Prayer with me.” Now that they are older, I might ask them to sit quietly somewhere and pray some arrow prayers. (They’ll still get a hug.)
I’ve also read my children two books from a series called The Silent Way by Jeanette Aydlette and Marilyn Rouvelas. Peter Clashes with Anger and Eleni Looks at Jealousy each tackle a joy thief (a “passion”), and each child goes through a conversation with his or her grandfather about how to overcome that passion, namely through practicing stillness. Hand in hand with the practice of stillness are arrow prayers, and the grandpa advises each grandchild to find a place to sit quietly and pray, “Lord have mercy.”
When I drafted this chapter, it was snowing outside, and my children were playing with blocks in the living room. I took that moment, observing them, to pause and pray a few arrow prayers: “My Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for these children.” I thought about my husband still at church. “My Lord Jesus Christ, bring my husband home safely in this snow.” My toddler hit his older brother with a toy. Before intervening, I prayed, “My Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Near bedtime we pray a shortened Twelfth Hour prayer from the Agpeya as a family. The absolution prayer of that Hour requests, “For the sake of your Holy Name, Lord, and for Your goodness and Your love to mankind, forgive us those sins we have committed this day, whether they are by action, by word, by thought or any of our senses. Grant us a peaceful night free of all anxiety” (emphasis mine).
Arrow prayers have always been my companion before bed, helping me remove anxious thoughts from my mind. My father of confession gave me that advice many years ago when I complained of struggles to fall asleep because of all the thoughts running through my head. Now, as my oldest child asks me how to fall asleep more easily, I give him the same advice–pray an arrow prayer. Some nights, I pray aloud a few repetitions of the Jesus Prayer with him, and then fall silent. Eventually he falls asleep, but I sometimes stay there, still praying.
Phoebe Farag Mikhail blogs about faith, family, relationships, and community at BeinginCommunity.com, and serves alongside her husband at St Antonious & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in East Rutherford, New Jersey. She is the mother of three, a writer, speaker, educator, and advocate, and works in international development.
Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church by Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Copyright 2019 by Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Used by Permission of Paraclete Press
To Purchase: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice?_pos=1&_sid=4970f825e&_ss=r