Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Prayer and Distraction

I had a couple of random thoughts this morning:

• A few months back, my friend Kat asked me to pray for her brother, whose has chronic leg problems had gotten worse of late. He never gets out of the house, I never see him, and it occurred to me that I should probably call up Kat and ask how he is doing.

• When my daughter was only a-year-and-a-half-old, she was bitten by a dog. She promptly bit the dog right back, leading us to conclude that if anyone had Saint Hubert’s special protection against dog bites, it was our little Bean-Girl. Since then, I have taken it for granted that Hubert was her patron. But since she is going to be confirmed in the Spring, it occurred to me that Bean-Girl should probably begin studying the lives of the saints so that she can pick out her own patron.

Now, these are both two perfectly legitimate, useful thoughts, but there was a time when they would have bothered me. You see, they both came to me while I was praying for these people and, when I was younger, and new to prayer, I would have regarded these thoughts as interruptions. But I have come to understand that, if prayer really is conversation with God, then God is going to respond to you.

Think about it; far from being an interruption in my prayer for Kat’s brother, the thought that I should ask after him turned my prayer from a mere repetition into a living, breathing concern about her brother. This is the kind of reflection that ought to come with prayer.

A few months back I received the welcome news that my best friend, Moira, was going to have a child. That evening, when I was saying the Rosary, and I got to the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, it occurred to me that I had just had a visitation from Moira. Immediately I was flooded with happiness, seized with a joy deeper even than when I had first heard the news. And I turned this right back to the Rosary, realizing the profound bliss that Elizabeth must have felt upon greeting the pregnant Mary. I then contemplated how Jesus had known these same human joys and sorrows that we all experience, since he had become man. How, when we come to him for forgiveness, because he lived a human life, he knows why we fail. Sure I stopped my Rosary and contemplated this for five or six minutes, but all of these thoughts made my Rosary a deeper, more personal, better devotion.

Of course, we must guard against distraction while at prayer. The banal concerns of everyday life must be put aside when we approach God. But we also need to be able to respond in a conversation with God. If we close ourselves off to all other thoughts, then our prayer lives will become a pointless repetition of half-felt phrases.

No comments: