Desert Wisdom: Early-Christian Prayer

Well, we begin a new “chapter” in our exploration of early-Christian spirituality, turning our attention to the practice of prayer according to the patristic tradition.  Just a reminder that we will be using Gabriel Bunge’s book, Earthen Vessels as a common reader for this journey.

I anticipate it will be an extended exploration, because even Bunge’s introduction is worthy of careful consideration—much less the rest of the book.  So, settle in and prepare for a marathon study, not a sprint—but one that I am confident will bless  and nourish us.

Bunge gets our attention on the very first page of his introduction (p. 9), proposing that the spate of books on spirituality may be as much a sign of a “restless search” as it is an indication that we have already reached the goal.

I recall Eugene Peterson saying the same thing—namely, that sometimes the thing we call an “emphasis” is really a “hunger.”  The fact that we have lived for nearly forty years with a renewed emphasis upon Spiritual Formation (using Foster’s Celebration of Discipline in 1978 as a kind of “launch” at least for Protestants) does not necessarily mean we’re any better at it than others in times past.  In fact, as Bunge suggests, we may be in greater need.

If so, then Bunge humbly offers (as a Benedictine monk) the richness of early Christianity, and I immediately resonate with that as a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition with John Wesley’s own disposition toward a careful exploration of the period roughly covering 100-500 a.d.  And as I have made this journey for decades, I have personally experienced the blessing and benefits of that focus.

With only a bit of confessed exaggeration, Bunge writes, “Only in prayer is the Christian really himself” (p. 11).  I’ll let that be both the consideration for today’s post, and also the invitation to what I pray will be a God-guided journey through the early Christians’ experience and teaching about prayer.

Again, if you know folks you think would like to make that journey with the rest of us, invite them to become part of the Oboedire family.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Desert Wisdom: Early-Christian Prayer

  1. Margot says:

    Good Morning Pastor Steve —

    I am touched by Brother Gabriel’s comment upon our current distractions:”The faith ‘evaporates’ when it is no longer practiced — in a way that accords with its essence.” (p 11) It seems to me that the yearning for the presence of God in Christ is not satisfied by the “outreach” that is the measure of church in our day. Bunge calls for “reach within,” as much or more than ceaseless social or fellowship activities — even evangelism, which is indispensable.

    I am concurrently reading a daily devotion book by E Stanley Jones written in 1949. One point that has me praying is what he calls “the end of your calling.” Claiming it is not heaven, not holiness, not happiness, usefulness or service. All these things have the self at the center of faith when “claimed” as attributes. ESJ claims, with the apostle Paul, that your calling is to belong to Christ. (Romans 1:6)

    I must pause at “be-longing.” ESJ cites 6:20-23. I confess that for me the “fruit” is not something I grasp. Be-longing seems to be an exquisite position or placement — maybe a balance. This real self — or being really him/herself cannot be expressed in self.


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