Quotations: October 2006 Archives

Prayer: The Beginner's Trials


Those interested in deepening their prayer life might benefit from picking up Hammer and Fire by Fr. Raphael Simon. In addition to the normal tips and hints one might receive in the course of reading about prayer, there is a depth of understanding about the various trials and tribulations of the person beginning to walk in the way of deeper prayer:

from Hammer and Fire
Father Raphael Simon, O.C.S.O., M.D.

Trials are to be expected by anyone who undertakes seriously to make a half-hour of mental prayer, or two periods of prayer, daily, particularly the trials of distraction and discouragement. The human mind has a capacity to wander without realizing that it is off the point. Thus during mental prayer it may happen that we have spent several minutes thinking about some happening of the previous day or even counting the panes of glass in the church where we are making our meditation, before we realize that we are off on a distraction. As in the cases of temptations to impurity and for the same reason, responsibility only begins when we realize with what our mind is occupied, and that, in this case, it is a distraction. Consequently our prayer has not been interrupted at all, since our intention to pray has remained. Without irritation, gently and peacefully, we should bring the mind back to the subject of our meditation, and as often as necessary. . . .Sometimes we may spend the entire time of prayer in returning to the subject. But we need have no misgivings or feel discouragement; our time has been well spent in the sight of the Father, we have been exercising our will to pray all the time and hence have, indeed, obtained the merit of prayer, if not its refreshment. . . .

[I]ndeliberate distractions are of no consequence, and should not be a source of concern or disquiet. . . . They not impair the value of our prayer. . . .

We do not have to have beautiful thoughts and sentiments in order to pray well, nor do we need to keep up the pace set by an infrequent excellent and "fruitful" half-hour.

From time to time I need these sane reminders that what may seem to be distraction may in fact be the purpose of that evening's conversation. In any conversation, we start a one point and end up winding endlessly (if we are engaged with a good conversationalist) to come to a completely unexpected endpoint. As we start to talk to God, the overfullness of the conversation and the desire to say everything and include everything tumbles out of us and jumbles up the deliberate "purpose" we have established for our conversation. The car needs repair, the house needs repair, one of the children is having trouble at school, there are groceries to buy and errands to run. . . and while these are not necessarily the matter for meditation, they are the facts of a straightforward conversation with God. These are concerns that we can bring to Him, and so this early stage of our conversation will be akin to an adult conversing with a five-year-old--there will be unexpected pause, odd turns in the exchange and sometimes complete flustration. On the other hand, it is all in the desire to talk with God and God will give us the strength to return to the conversation if we do not discourage ourselves.

So, distraction can be a problem, or it can be merely another route to where God would have us go--because He is Lord even of distractions--He knows who we are and what deeply concerns us--and He knows what He wants to touch and give us peace about. So accept the distraction, offer it to the Lord and attempt to return to the point. And if not, then engage God about what is driving you to distraction. Whatever you do, remain faithful to the time of prayer and the rewards will be very great indeed.

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How to Study

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Via Sirus a translation by Brother Kenney of a letter of St. Thomas Aquinas to Brother John on how to study.

One point that keeps surfacing for me, and one that is so very difficult to gauge:

Do not spend time on things beyond your grasp.

How do you know if it is beyond your grasp until you've tried to grasp it, and by then you've already spent so much time on it that it seems a shame to give it up.

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Middlemarch Revisited

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This is the woman that George Eliot wants us to sympathize with, or at least accept as the heroine of our novel:

from Middlemarch Chapter 4
George Eliot

Dorothea laughed. "O Kitty, you are a wonderful creature!" She pinched
Celia's chin, being in the mood now to think her very winning and
lovely--fit hereafter to be an eternal cherub, and if it were not
doctrinally wrong to say so, hardly more in need of salvation than a squirrel.
"Of course people need not be always talking well. Only one tells the
quality of their minds when they try to talk well."

. . . .

"_Fad_ to draw plans! Do you think I only care about my
fellow-creatures' houses in that childish way? I may well make mistakes. How can
one ever do anything nobly Christian, living among people with such petty

No more was said; Dorothea was too much jarred to recover her temper
and behave so as to show that she admitted any error in herself. She was
disposed rather to accuse the intolerable narrowness and the purblind
conscience of the society around her: and Celia was no longer the
eternal cherub, but a thorn in her spirit, a pink-and-white nullifidian,
worse than any discouraging presence in the "Pilgrim's Progress." The _fad_
of drawing plans! What was life worth--what great faith was possible
when the whole effect of one's actions could be withered up into such
parched rubbish as that? When she got out of the carriage, her cheeks
were pale and her eyelids red. She was an image of sorrow, and her uncle
who met her in the hall would have been alarmed, if Celia had not been
close to her looking so pretty and composed, that he at once concluded
Dorothea's tears to have their origin in her excessive religiousness.
He had returned, during their absence, from a journey to the county
town, about a petition for the pardon of some criminal.

What a dreadful, supercilious woman--unfortunately, from all signs, she has her comeuppance shortly, and it is like to be as dreadful as a woman who thinks of her sister as a squirrel.

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A Salutary Notion of Religion

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Once again, George displays her brittle but piercing humor:

from Middlemarch
George Eliot

Why did he not pay attention to Celia, and leave her to listen
to Mr. Casaubon?--if that learned man would only talk, instead of
allowing himself to be talked to by Mr. Brooke, who was just then informing
him that the Reformation either meant something or it did not, that he
himself was a Protestant to the core, but that Catholicism was a fact;
and as to refusing an acre of your ground for a Romanist chapel, all
men needed the bridle of religion, which, properly speaking, was the
dread of a Hereafter.

What a remarkably draconian view of the role of religion--to instill dread--that's certainly the road to relentless charity.

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Wisely Shown--George Eliot


As George Eliot demonstrates succinctly, even detachment can become an attachment:

from Middlemarch
George Eliot

"I think she is," said Celia, feeling afraid lest she should say
something that would not please her sister, and blushing as prettily as
possible above her necklace. "She likes giving up."

"If that were true, Celia, my giving-up would be self-indulgence, not
self-mortification. But there may be good reasons for choosing not to do
what is very agreeable," said Dorothea.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Quotations category from October 2006.

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