>"Quomodo te Invocem?" or "Who’s Afraid of Recited Prayer?"

Posted: 10/10/2008 in devotions

>I had an epiphany recently while I was translating Augustine’s Confessions. Recited prayer is great for devotional life, and people should not be afraid of it.

Recited prayer, is after all, something many evangelicals have a lot of trepidation about. They may see a Catholic mass or traditional Lutheran service and think that the prayers are insincere. I remember years ago, a Calvary Chapel pastor preached that recited prayers were the equivalent of believing we would be heard for our many words. Prayer, as it is often said, should “come from the heart” and not in rote recitation of what someone else wrote down.

Strange thing is, Evangelicals recite prayers all the time –they usually do it to music. Every worship song or praise piece is (hopefully) something that is directed towards God. Is this not the same as reciting someone else’s prayer? Why is this not considered just as rote as speaking “Our Father, who art in heaven…” inside a church? It seems that if singing song we didn’t write is “from the heart” then why shouldn’t recited prayer be the same?

This brings me to Augustine’s Confessions. I am not going to attempt to give you my translation from Latin, but here it is from some PhD online:

And how shall I call upon my God–my God and my Lord? For when I call on him I ask him to come into me. And what place is there in me into which my God can come? How could God, the God who made both heaven and earth, come into me? Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain thee?

St. Augustine is on to something in this prayer. He has a clear sense of God’s omnipresence that shines throughout the passage. I felt that same sense as I was translating it and recited some of in my own devotional times. This was far from rote, meaningless, prayer.

C.S. Lewis once remarked that theology is based on people who were really in touch with God, and that’s why we should pay attention to it. When we pray the prayer of a saint like this, we are able to get a sense of what they felt about God as they wrote their prayers, the same as worship songs.

I think for this reason nobody should be afraid of reciting prayers, especially the prayers of the big saints and heroes throughout history.

Thanks for reading.

  1. Q says:

    >I agree. I think there is a lot of value in recited prayer, especially since we see examples of it as Scriptures (the psalms). I think it is one of many ways to communicate with God. Evangelicals occasionally get too caught up in the extemporaneous to appreciate the solemn and thoughtful.

  2. Amy says:

    >Joel, I love this blog. For the past year John and I have been going to a presbyterian church and for the first time have been reading the corporate prayer of confession. I can see how it might be totally easy to read along without internalizing the words, but there is such value in what other people have prayed – I feel connected with the catholic church (little c of course) and honestly, the written prayer 1) reminds me to confess my shortcomings to God and 2) reveals to myself things I have not confessed.

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