Norris J. Chumley, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer; Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 195pp.
The purpose of this book, writes Norris Chumley, "is to bring to the Western world an ancient prayer that can liberate us from fear and anxiety, help us to discover peace and happiness, and enable us to live each moment in the loving presence of God" (13). The Jesus Prayer comes from Luke 18:10–14, where in contrast to the self-righteous Pharisee, the tax collector prays, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." The Jesus Prayer plays a central role in Eastern Orthodox spirituality, and has made its way to the west through such well-known books as The Way of a Pilgrim and J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.
Chumley writes that he spent eight years on this project, which in addition to this book includes a film (see JesusPrayerMovie.com). This book is really mistitled, for it's more about Chumley's visits to Eastern Orthodox monasteries and their monks than about the Jesus Prayer itself. Successive chapters take the reader with him to St. Anthony's and St. Catherine's monasteries in Egypt, the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, then to Greece and to twenty monasteries of Mt. Athos, and on to Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. Chumley interviews the monks on the role of the Jesus Prayer in their monastic spirituality.
What this book lacks in theological depth it makes up for in authentic enthusiasm. Chumley, who is an "award-winning executive producer" in television and movies, wrote another book called The Joy of Weight Loss (2001), which chronicles how he conquered his weight problems as a 400-pounder. Along the way he completed his PhD in theology and the arts at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. There are better books on Eastern Orthodox monasticism, spirituality and the Jesus Prayer, but few as exuberant about viewing the Jesus prayer as "not the privilege of the few but the vocation of all" (ix).