Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Babbling in Prayer

Before beginning his discussion of the Lord’s Prayer, Gregory of Nyssa warns us about babbling in prayer. He challenges us to consider that we my have the habit of praying like a child, praying for things that are not practical, mere fantasies - great success, wealth, fame and so forth. He warns that these kind of prayers are the the result of our vanity and all we are doing is asking God to join us in our foolish passions. He says, “These and similar soap bubbles and vain inventions rise up in the hearts of the most foolish.” He points out that many of us fail to attend to the benefit of our soul, but instead seek to feed the self-centered passionate movements of our minds. He says, “That person is truly a sort of fool and babbler because he prays to make God the coworker and servant of his own vanities.”

Gregory uses the image of a poor person who regards common clay pots as precious and who approaches the all powerful king of his place who can grant many benefits, asking the king to shape a clay pot that he fancies for himself instead of the kind of benefits a king could provide. This is the same as one who comes to prayer without fully understanding the power of God and the benefits he can bestow and presents him with his own desires based on his passions. One may even ask God to defeat an enemy or even something as foolish as to win a sports contest. Do we not often fail to ask to be forgiven of our sinfulness, for help to overcome our slavery to this condition, but instead to ask Him to support our sinful tendencies. Praying for benefits of this world that go beyond our basic survival needs, that our fantasies come true, while neglecting the health of our soul and our critical need to be healed, to seek union with God so He can help us become capable to do His will is what Gregory calls babbling in prayer.

Jesus says, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases...” (Mat 6:7). Let us not engage in our vanities when we pray to God and not try and make God a coworker and servant of our vanities.

Gregory of Nyssa Sermons on the Lords Prayer; Discourse One.
Visit Cathedral prayer web pages for articles on prayer

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