The people who are praying the Jesus prayer regularly and are at the point where the Jesus prayer becomes part of the rhythm of the heart, are they thinking about the words? Yes, still, because they started the prayer thinking about the words. It’s like being in love: You don’t have to repeat the words to mean them. The people who are in love with each other, are they still thinking in the broadest sense about the words when they are not saying them? I hope so. It’s entirely possible, but it doesn’t mean that they are saying, “I love you,” 100 times per minute.
So, broadly speaking, I believe that it’s possible to say that they have thought about the words, because they prayed it as a real prayer to Christ. So they have thought about the words. And the meaning of those words has become part of the experience, and at that point the experience and the words are not separate from each other. The words are loaded, and those people are certainly not praying in a way which is disconnected from the words. It’s just that those words do not need to be repeated consciously any more. So the words are being repeated by the heart. So they are not aware, necessarily, of the words being repeated, but they are being repeated.
I suppose on one hand you could say they are not repeating them consciously, but on the other hand, the words here have brought us to the Person. The words are functioning like an icon. They reveal the Person of Christ. It doesn’t mean that the words are unimportant at that point, but when Christ is revealed, we have him. The words have revealed him. So it’s not a disconnect from the words; it’s a deeper immersion into the words, which has allowed the person to encounter Christ.