from The Art of Praying
Fr. Romano Guardini
The basic meaning of the word recollected is "to be unified, gathered together." A glance at our life will show how much we lack this aptitude. We should have a fixed center which, like the hub of a wheel, governs our movements and from wich all our actions go out and to which they return; a standard also, or a code by which we distinguish the important from the unimportant, the end from the means, and which puts actions and experience into their proper order; something stable, unaffected by change and yet capable of development, which makes it clear to us who we are and how matters stand with us. We lack this; we, the men of today lack it more than did those who lived in earlier ages.
This becomes evident in our attempts to pray. Spiritual teachers speak of distraction as that state in which man lacks poise and unity, that state in which thoughts flit from object to object, in which feellings are vague and unfocused and the will ineffective. Man in this state is not really a person who speaks or who can be spoken to, but merely an uncoordinated bundle of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Recollectedness means that he who prays gathers himself together, directs his attention to what he is doing, draws in all thought--a painstaking task--so as to dedicate himself to prayer as a unified whole. This is the state in which he may, when the call comes to him, answer in the words of Moses, "Here I am."
And I might also add, in the words of Isaiah ("Here I am, Lord, send me"), and the words of Samuel--"Speak Lord, your servant is listening."
The point of this passage was driven home to me by some of the goings-on over at that most excellent of blogs, Disputations. Tom has posted some really fine reflections on prayer over the past couple of days. I hope that the series has not ceased. However, he has also posted some really well-considered thoughts on the morality and licitness of torture. As you might well imagine, almost no one has commented on any of the statements regarding prayer. The statements regarding torture have more commenters than can jam themselves into the room. Now, while this subject is important and it is a vital part of our work as Christians to eradicate this evil, certainly it is not more or even equally important to bringing souls, and especially our own souls, to Christ in prayer. This is merely one example of the many things with which we can choose to be distracted or obsessed with in the world.
Naturally no one spends their entire time thinking about prayer, and in fact that too would be a waste of time. Thinking about prayer or even talking about prayer is not praying. But I find it somewhat sad that in a discussion of prayer almost no one has anything to add, but many, many people have something to say about torture. Shouldn't we all have something to say or to add to a discussion about prayer? If we are actually praying, shouldn't it be a matter that occupies at least some portion of our consciousness. And yet, to all appearances, it occupies very little. When someone speaks of prayer there is stunned silence as though the wisdom of the ages has dropped full force into the middle of a traffic circle. It is the wisdom of the ages, but it is the ordinary and natural wisdom of the ages--a wisdom we should be comfortable around and that we should enjoy engaging and discussing.
I don't read too much into this. After all, blogs are a form of entertainment. But I think even our actions on blogs reveal something about where our thoughts and our relative values lie. Too often prayer is not one of them. Admittedly, some apsects of prayer are difficult to engage or to comment on. One doesn't want to leave the enormously vapid "Well said," with every post on prayer. But it would seem that if a couple of posts on torture can illicit nearly a hundred comments, prayer, which should be a chief concern for all of us could garner more than six.
We are distracted, torn apart, and divided. This distraction in our lives leads to distraction in prayer. We can live our lives with a focus on Jesus Christ and still pay attention to things of the world. I think this is part of why Disputations is so sucessful a blog. And the discussion on torture is, in fact, a very fine consideration of the moral, ethical, and religious aspects of the question. But prayer still should be at the center. I can do nothing about torture except (1)express outrage--either through blogging, protesting, or writing letters, or (2) praying. Of these two, I tend to view the latter as perhaps the stronger component in the solution to the problem. My outrage is a thing of the moment--here and gone. But when I carry the subject with me into prayer, it enters eternity, where God may take my concern and make something solid of it.
The distractions in prayer come from the disjointedness of life. There seem to be more distractions today because there is a greater amount of information flowing in constantly. We cannot be focused on any issue for more than a few minutes at a time IF we allow ourselves to react to all of that information.
I suppose from this I wonder if recollectedness and prayer itself might not be somewhat easier if we allowed less of the world to iintrude into our thoughts. I don't know the answer to that; however, my suspicion is that a life focused on God starts off more recollected than one that is split five-hundred ways. Prayer may be somewhat easier if we gave less of ourselves to the crises of the world and more to loving and serving our Lord.