Some reflections on prayer and the Lord's Prayer after reading Augustine's Letter 130 to the widow Proba. This was part of a paper I read last week at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting.
In Letter 130 to Proba, a widow whose deceased husband had been richest man in Rome, Augustine writes a short treatise on the meaning of praying without ceasing. Praising her for her desire to pray, he likens her to the desolate widow (1 Tim. 5:5) whose primary calling has become persisting in prayer day and night. Though Proba is not economically poor, she has in a sense made herself poor to the world by putting her hope in eternal things.
Addressing the question of what to pray for, Augustine advises Proba to pray for the happy life (vita beata), which included having her needs for health, friendship, and material things met. Ultimately though, the happy life is a craving for eternal life and for the One who is able to give it.
Regarding how to pray, Augustine first mentions the attitude and posture of prayer—that we should pray believing that God is good and enjoys answering prayer. In other words, the values of faith, hope, and love ought to undergird one’s approach to prayer. Practically speaking, Augustine urges Proba to pray with few words emulating the Egyptian monks who were able to pray for long periods of time using short sentence prayers. This practice would lead to persistence in the discipline of prayer.
For Augustine, the best model for prayer was the Lord’s Prayer. Arguing that it was a thorough and sufficient template for prayer and one that covers the needs of ourselves, friends, families, and even enemies, he writes: “If you run though all the words of holy petitions, you will not find, in my opinion, anything that this prayer of our Lord does not contain and include.” Finally, Augustine added that fasting and almsgiving were useful practices in helping the believer to pray effectively and with focus.
Augustine concludes the letter by encouraging Proba to imitate the praying women of Scripture such as Hannah (1 Sam. 1:2-28) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and he exhorts her to “pray in hope; pray with faith and with love; pray persistently and patiently; pray like a widow for Christ . . . though you are wealthy, pray as a poor woman.” Augustine closes the letter by asking Proba to pray for him.
 Cf. Joanne McWilliam, “Augustine’s Letters to Women,” in Stark, Feminist Interpretations of Augustine, 196; also Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 340.
 Augustine, Letter 130.1-2, 7-8; cf. 1 Tim. 6:17-19.
 Augustine, Letter 130.4.9, 9.18; cf. McWilliam, “Augustine’s Letters to Women,” 197.
 Augustine, Letter 130.8.16, 9.18.
 Ibid. 130.8.15, 10.20.
 Ibid. 130.12.22.
 Ibid. 130.14.30-31.