Thursday, May 29, 2014
If At First You Don't Succeed
But this raises a related question for me. I have been trying to be faithful to at least morning and evening prayer. You say "You only do it wrong when it becomes rote or thoughtless." And I wonder, what is the difference between reading the Office and praying it? I asked Father after Mass once and he sort of mumbled something about intent and said I should be able to tell the difference. But I can't tell! If I'm reading the words with the intent to pray, but I don't 'feel' anything while I'm reading them, is that still prayer? And sometimes, I notice that I've gotten distracted, and I go back to the point I last remember being attentive... I've been operating on the assumption that I should continue regardless of the way I feel, because otherwise it makes the prayer more about me than about God, you know? But Father's comment that "I should be able to tell" disturbed me. Maybe I really *am* off track.
I should add that I chat with God inside my head throughout my day. I think that's prayer, too, so hopefully my attempts at the Divine Office aren't my only prayer.
Anyway, anything you could say to shed some light on this would be appreciated. I'm a convert and I often feel clueless, but I want to pray well to express to God the indescribable gratitude I feel every day.
It's not rocket science. And it's not about feelings. It can be. But praying isn't about evoking emotions. Spiritual ecstasies aside, prayer is a conversation with God, a connection with God, so that you can receive His grace.
So if you and I were having a conversation and you somehow managed to keep talking while you were distracted with something else, it's not much of a conversation. What if I just suddenly blabbed out one of my distracted thought while I was talking with you?
"It has come to light from recently published documents that the CIA actually promoted artists like Jackson Pollock during the Cold War to show the world, but particularly Russia, that the United States of America was on the cutting edge of everything, including art."
While this is a true statement, it has nothing to do with you and me and our conversation. It's fascinating, though, isn't it? I've been thinking a lot about it lately.
I understand that the mind wanders. I'd like to say "don't beat yourself up about it." So I'll go ahead and say that.
Don't beat yourself up about it. Not because it doesn't matter or because it's normal or expected. Don't beat yourself up because doing that is a waste of time. Beating yourself up serves no purpose whatsoever in this matter. (In other ares of life, it might be a good idea to give yourself a talking to, a finger wag, or a boot to the head. But not about this.)
Move forward. Do better. Don't dwell on your past failure. Concentrate on redoubling your efforts.
Imagine you were reading me a passage from a book you enjoyed. You would be engaged in the words you were saying. What makes saying these prayers any different from that? Perhaps you simply need to say your prayers out loud.
It takes some discipline to pull your mind back if and when it wanders. I frankly find these questions about prayer to be rather like questions about dieting. We'd all love to find some magical diet or pill that allows us to eat as much of anything that we want and do little or no exercise. But that is never going to happen. If we want to maintain a healthy weight we're going to have to have a little discipline.
If you think of your prayers as a conversation with God, you actually should be able to tell whether or not you are having one, don't you think? You can tell when you're having a conversation with someone, right?
Good old Maya Angelou went home to God yesterday. (I'm not wandering off, I'm about to make a point.) She said once that when she went to write (she kept a hotel room in any town in which she lived and would go there every day at 6am), she began by clearing her mind of everything: what happened yesterday, whatever was on her mind, what happened on the drive over. She brought herself to the present. She mentioned that she didn't really know how she did this.
I'm suggesting that you do this somehow. Take a few deep breaths. Bring yourself into the present moment. You are connected with God. You are a part of Him. You don't have to feel anything. It's already there and happening. Read the prayer to Him.
If you can't maintain any concentration, stop. Try again later. Try again tomorrow. The ability to focus and concentrate is a muscle. I'm sure you use it in other areas of your life. You just have to train it to this use. Beating yourself up about it is a waste of energy. Do better. If you don't do better, try again.