Franny and Zooey [excerpt]

by katiedwyer

“Well, as I said, the pilgrim — this simple peasant — started the whole pilgrimage to find out what it means in the Bible when it says you’re supposed to pray without ceasing. And then he meets this starets — this very advanced religious person I mentioned, the one who’d been studying the ‘Philokalia’ for years and years and years.” Franny stopped suddenly to reflect, to organize. “Well, the starets tells him about the Jesus Prayer first of all. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ I mean that’s what it is. And he explains to him that those are the best words to use when you pray. Especially the word ‘mercy,’ because it’s such a really enormous word and can mean so many things. I mean it doesn’t just have to mean mercy.” Franny paused to reflect again. She was no longer looking at Lane’s plate but over his shoulder. “Anyway,” she went on, “the starets tells the pilgrim that if you keep saying that prayer over and over again — you only have to just do it with your lips at first — then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don’t know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person’s heartbeats, and then you’re actually praying without ceasing. Which has a really tremendous, mystical effect on your whole outlook. I mean that’s the whole point of it, more or less. I mean you do it to purify your whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything’s about.”

Lane had finished eating. Now, as Franny paused again, he sat back and lit a cigarette and watched her face. She was still looking abstractedly ahead of her, past his shoulder, and seemed scarcely aware of his presence.

“But the thing is, the marvelous thing is, when you first start doing it, you don’t even have to have faith in what you’re doing. I mean even if you’re terribly embarrassed about the whole thing, it’s perfectly all right. I mean you’re not insulting anybody or anything. In other words, nobody asks you to believe a single thing when you first start out. You don’t even have to think about what you’re saying, the starets said. All you have to have in the beginning is quantity. Then, later on, it becomes quality by itself. On its own power or something. He says that any name of God — any at all — has this peculiar, self-active power of its own, and it starts working after you’ve sort of started it up.”

J.D. Salinger