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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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 31, 2006 9:26 AM.

The Last Apprentice: Curse of the Bane was the previous entry in this blog.

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