John_ChrysostomHannah continued praying in the presence of the Lord… (1 Samuel 1:12).

The writer bears witness here to ­two virtues in the woman: her perseverance in prayer and her attentiveness.

He refers to the first by saying, She continued, and to the second by adding, in the presence of the Lord; for we all pray, but not all of us pray in the presence of the Lord.

Though our bodies may be in an attitude of prayer and our mouths babbling some pious formula, can we really claim to be praying in the presence of God when our minds are wandering hither and thither in home and market-place?

Those people pray in the presence of the Lord who pray with complete recollection; who, having no worldly attachments, have removed from earth to heaven and banished all human preoccupations, just as this woman did then.

Recollecting herself completely and concentrating her mind, she called upon ­God in her deep distress.

But why does Scripture say she continued praying when actually her prayer was very short?

[…] She said the same thing over and over again; she spent a long time ceaselessly repeating the same words.

That ­indeed is how Christ also commanded us to pray in the Gospels. When he told his disciples not to pray like the Gentiles and not to use empty repetitions, he also taught them the right way to pray, showing them that it is not a multiplicity of words but mental ­alertness that wins us a hearing.

Why then, you may ask, if prayer should be brief, did Christ tell them a parable to show that it should be continuous? There was a widow, he said, who by her persistent requests, by her going to him again and again, overcame a cruel and inhuman judge who neither feared God nor regarded other people.

And why does Paul also urge us to keep praying, to pray without ceasing? Is it a contra­diction to tell us not to make long speeches, and yet to pray continually?

No…! The two commands are in complete agreement. Christ and Paul com­manded us to make our prayers short, and to say them frequently, at brief intervals.

For if you spin out your words to any length you are often inattentive, and so give the devil freedom to approach and trip you up and divert your mind from what you are saying.

But if you pray continuously and frequently, repeating your prayer at brief intervals, you can easily remain recollected and fully alert as you pray.

That indeed is just what this woman did, not making long speeches but drawing near to God frequently, at brief inter­vals. That is true prayer, when its cries come from the depths of one’s being.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): De Anna, Sermon 2.2; (Bareille 8:419-21); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I.