Augustinian Prayer

In Prayer and Temperament, Michael and Norrisey describe Augustinian Prayer as a prayer style similar to Ignatian style prayer, but with some important differences. In Ignatian style prayer, we imagine ourselves into the Bible stories, but in Augustinian prayer, or prayer of transposition, we imagine the Bible passages as talking to us now.

To pray in this style, first pick a selection of biblical text, change the words, pronouns, and names to reflect you and your current situation, write the new version of the text, and then sit and reflect upon this new text. You can even go so far as to record the new version, and then sit and listen to the biblical text, now directed at you.

Here is a quick example. Let us start with John 14:1-16.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

Next we go through and switch out names and pronouns. If you have names for God you prefer, this is an opportunity to use those as well. I will use “the Divine” instead of “Father” here, but feel free to use a name of God you prefer.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In [the Divine’s] house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” [Your Name] said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to [Your Pronouns], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Divine except through me. If you know me, you will know the Divine also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

[Your Name] said to him, “Lord, show us the Divine, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to [Your Pronouns], “Have I been with you all this time, [Your Name], and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Divine. How can you say, ‘Show us the Divine’? Do you not believe that I am in the Divine and the Divine is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Divine who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Divine and the Divine is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Divine. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Divine may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Divine, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

With just a few alterations, the passage can seem new and fresh, without the underlining meaning altered at all. Once we’ve made these modifications, we read through the passage a few times, close our eyes, and sit in silence. We imagine having this conversation with Jesus, and we reflect upon how we feel. Which parts of the exchange are the most dear to us? We can write those parts down, so we can return to them later. Connecting with our feelings and how the biblical text speaks to us directly in the current moment is the goal of Augustinian prayer.

Some passages lend themselves to more extensive changes, too. In sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, whenever Israel’s sins are listed, we can use our name in place of Israel, and replace the listed sins with our own behaviors that are weighing us down. Struggling with the problem of evil? Take sections of Job, and put yourself in his place. Feeling called to do something in your life, but you are feeling reluctant? Put yourselves in the place of Jonah. With the Epistles, we can take parts of them, and imagine ourselves getting a direct letter from an apostle with advice for our current situation–even using names of people in our life in place of the people in the text. The Holy Spirit, through the gift of our imagination, can guide us to play with the text in new and interesting ways, which can deepen our connection to the Bible and the Divine. Play with the text as much as you want, the Bible can take it.

Grace and Peace to you all.

2 Comments
  1. Avatar
    • Bart Hennigan