Vocal Prayer: A Double-Edged Sword

In modern American churches, we tend to think of prayer as closing our eyes and saying words aloud. Since when was the dignity of prayer cheapened into such a pitiful form?

The authority on this subject I have to hand over to the Catholics. I so admire their history on the subject and the high respect they continue to give it. I am not here to bash vocal prayer; it’s a method of prayer that we practice regularly in the prayer room and I think it’s very necessary. But there’s so much more to prayer.

Here’s my quarrel with vocal prayer: prayer is so powerful (more on that later) and yet most of the time when we close our eyes and pray aloud, we’re not thinking about what we’re praying and even less are we thinking about Whom we are praying to.

“If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips.” – St. Teresa of Avila, Fire Within

I’m going to do a series of posts on prayer: different types of prayer, the power of prayer…I guess it’s my weak attempt to change the mindset of my culture. Everything that I will say I’ve learned myself – I won’t be parroting my teachers or plagiarizing a book.

Stay tuned.

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I have now completed this series. Click here to read the rest of the posts.

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8 thoughts on “Vocal Prayer: A Double-Edged Sword

  1. Greetings Alyssa!
    I just found your blog as I was surfing some of the latest WordPress posts tagged “catholic.” I wrote something this morning on a theme similar to this. Can’t wait to see what else you have to say on the topic.

  2. May I suggest that you also search into the physical position of how one prays as well. Its not that its required to be in a certain physical position to pray, but the position reminds us about scriptural passages and assists (or should) in establishing the proper mindset towards God when we approach Him.

    Eph 3:14 -For this reason I kneel before the Father

    2 Chronicles 7:3 – they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the LORD

    Nehemiah 9:3 – And they rose up to stand: and they read in the book of the law of the Lord their God, four times in the day, and four times they confessed, and adored the Lord their God.

    Exodus 17:13-15 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

  3. quickbeamoffangorn –

    Though I haven’t studied this particular aspect of prayer, here are my initial thoughts.

    I agree that to the degree a certain position helps you to reverence God — or as you say, establish a proper mindset towards Him — it should be employed. I disagree that a physical position alone can cause this to happen in your heart. Jesus didn’t specify that we should pray in a specific position. Just as you showed in the 4 references you gave, different positions were helpful for different people.

    I see your point, but isn’t internal heart posture more important?

  4. If you want to pursue this subject, an excellent book to read is “Earthen Vessels” by Benedictine monk and hermit, Fr Gabriel Bunge. In it, he discusses:

    Places & times for Prayer:

    In your “room” (alone)
    Facing east
    Multiple times each day
    Watching at night
    With fasting

    Ways (Manners) of Praying:

    With tears
    Frequently/Constantly
    For mercy & help/assistance
    Aloud (sotto voce (in an undertone); loud cries)
    In silence (of lips & heart)

    Prayer gestures:

    Standing
    Hands outstretched/lifted up
    Gazing upward (lifting of the eyes)
    Kneeling
    Genuflecting (one knee or both)
    Prostrating (partial or full)
    Bowing (profoundly)
    Beating of the breast
    The Sign of the Cross

    He presents the Old Testament history of each of these aspects, and traces their use/development through the first few centuries of Christianity. I can’t recommend it highly enough as a resource for this subject!

  5. On a personal note, I agree that internal heart posture is indeed more important. As a matter of fact, I teach my children that any prayer gesture they make (we Catholics are infamous for those!) must be an outward reflection of what’s in their mind or heart. Mindless, routine gestures are mostly meaningless in prayer.

    But, when I first started to practice these gestures in my own personal prayer time, I had to force myself to do some of them, because I was unfamiliar with them. So, originally, they didn’t come from the heart. But now that I am comfortable with doing them, they are additional avenues (weapons of prayer!) that I can use to physically express my self-giving love to the Lord when my heart prompts me to do so.

    Any serious Christian is bound to encounter times during prayer when their heart is ready to burst with love and desire for God, and they yearn to be able to humanly express more deeply the grace they are experiencing. These gestures are sometimes that means of expression for me.

  6. Alyssa,

    I agree with you on the interior heart being more central. I didn’t mean to indicate that it was primary to it.

    However I think the modern world has placed so many distractions and we commit to so many activities in our daily lives, that its easy at least for me to get distracted during prayer.

  7. christicrux –

    Thanks for your book recommendation. Regarding what you said that certain gestures help you personally to express what’s going on internally, I couldn’t agree more. I do think the heart posture is most important, but as a person develops in prayer, they will inevitably find positions they prefer to assist their prayers.

    quickbeamoffangorn –

    I wouldn’t discount yourself as the only one who gets distracted during prayer! I think it’s a weakness that comes with being human — we often talk about that in a prayer room because everyone I’ve ever met struggles with that to some capacity.

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