Chris Hall, in Worshiping With the Church Fathers
, examines the topic of prayer in the fathers and begins with a rather bald description of his own difficulties in praying — that paragraph is worth the price of the chp — and the chp is worth more than its own value. (Make sense? maybe not.) Anyway, there’s much to harvest here.
What, or who, has been your best teacher for prayer?
Clement of Alexandria: prayer is communication with God. But this brings in theology: “true theology is the adoration offered by the intellect” (86). Hall here explains the Trinity in terms of perichoresis: God is love in communion, God has always been love in communion, and God created out of that love. Prayer is communion in that communion and God wants us to talk to him because those who love one another want to hear from one another, even when they know what the other one asks.
Prayer is not the time to show off, and the fathers counseled against loud prayers (Tertullian, Cyprian).
They learned to pray from the Psalms. Daily. Some did it hourly. Some monastic communities prayed the whole book of Psalms every day! Aloud. Like Bonhoeffer, they saw Christ present everywhere in the Psalms.
On praying without ceasing: Hall discusses this through Cassian’s famous Conferences. There is a reciprocal link between our bodily behavior, the inner state of the soul, and the cultivation of the virtues necessary for unceasing prayer (93). We must purge the passions (special meaning and not just strong emotions). Our thoughts need preparation by cultivating the “heart”. We need to cultivate moderation. Thus, unceasing prayer is learning to focus by ridding the soul, heart and mind of distractions.
Prayer involves supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. Christ is the model. Cassian’s figure “Isaac” speaks of “fiery [wordless] prayer” and finds it in Romans 8’s famous lines about groaning.
Cassian asks if God answers prayer? God is apt to respond to folks who are hopeful and confident in God, who are persistent, and who are assured that their prayers are answered.
The next chp directly gets to the issue of unceasing prayer.