Christian schools have largely failed to show students how to pray, for we have not taught our students the historic prayers of the Church. Rather, classical Christian schools prefer old books, old music, old art, and prayers thrown together two seconds ago …
The classical teacher who hastily invents a few banal sentences for God every day before class begins is sending his students contradictory messages. It may be de rigueur for 21st Americans to pray in this fashion, but classical education is committed to tradition, contemplation, reflection, and circumspection, none of which is modeled for students in glib, forgettable, and flimsy two sentence thank-you-for-this- day prayers.
The teacher who begins class with a forgettable post hoc prayer thinks he has communicated to his students that prayer is important, when he has actually communicated that prayer is easy, which is simply not true. Prayer is no easier than fasting and giving alms, both of which are nearly impossible.
Almost all student prayers are simply amalgams of stock phrases borrowed from post hoc teacher prayers: be together, learn about your world, glorify You, grow in wisdom, grow in You, grow together, have a good time, bless the community, and thank you for sending your Son. These are forgettable, disposable praise chorus prayers. If we are willing to admit that a pop Christian song can trivialize the Incarnation, we ought to be willing to admit that a prayer can do so, as well. Such prayers not only teach our students to ask very little from God, but to commit little and expect little from pious practices. “You do not have because you do not ask, and when you ask, you just kind of arbitrarily mumble something off the top of your head that you don’t really mean.” Compare the bringing-us-together-today-just- glorify-you prayer with a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’s prayer of the student:
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.
Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.
Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things
correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent
of being exact in my explanations
and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.
I ask this through Christ our Lord.
This is a prayer which underwrites the possibility of great faith. It is a prayer worth remembering, worth repeating on a daily basis, worth meditating on. It is a worthy model for other prayers ….
Joshua Gibbs, Teach Classical Students To Pray Classically.
Every word of that resonates deeply within me.
As a Christian Reformed Elder, on those rare occasions when the Pastor was absent and Elders assisted the visiting Pastor in leading worship, I always labored over any prayer I was expected to give, borrowing surreptitiously from an old Book of Common Prayer. In a Reformed Church, that passed muster.
But the bane of “spontaneous prayer,” and being thought unspiritual if you pattern your public prayer on something as worthy as Gibbs’ example, are among the reasons I could never go back to frank Evangelicalism (Christian Reformed is not frankly Evangelical in its traditional expression). They are among the top reasons I reflexively view Evangelicalism as a frivolous religion-unto-itself.
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