Sometimes I just have to laugh, both at myself and at the humor of God.
I noticed that my prayer life has become one with growing distractions; that I have a difficult time quieting my mind. I decided to pray about this. After all – what did I have to lose as I was already thinking about my travel plans during the time I was supposed to be centering myself on God. And somewhat to my surprise during my prayer, I had an urge to pick up the book I’ve been reading and read it. At first I thought this was just another distraction and dismissed it; trying to shove that thought away. But it kept coming back, like a song that keeps looping in my mind. The book is New Seeds of Contemplation written by the Catholic monk Thomas Merton. Since I couldn’t shake the urge to open the book, I abandoned my paltry attempt at prayer and succumbed to the urge to read my book. I opened the book and found my bookmark on the chapter entitled “Distractions”. Really. I laughed out loud and said something like “pretty funny, God”. So I read this brief five-page chapter and it had this to say about distracted prayer.
Distractions are a part of contemplative prayer. Accepting them is better than fighting them. Treat them for what they are – a fleeting thought. “…no matter how distracted you may be, pray to center your heart on God, who is present to you in spite of all that may be going on in your mind. His presence does not depend on your thoughts of Him. He is unfailingly there…the memory of His unfailing presence is the surest anchor for our minds and hearts in the storms of distractions…if God calls you to Him, then He implicitly promises all the grace you need to reach Him. You must be blindly faithful to this promise.”
The irony of this entire encounter is both amusing and puzzling. I have been practicing and reading about contemplative prayer, which is a kind of prayerful meditation. I have been trying to get closer to God through prayer but have been feeling distracted. And the sense of distraction was itself becoming a distraction. The circuitous route to all of this is what is curious to me. I now have to ask, was God telling me to pray about distractions, so that I would read the chapter on distractions at the exact time that it would make the deepest impression on me? Does God really implant a question in us so that He can answer? Does God work this way on people like me who need loud cues on when to listen up? I don’t know. I think I’ll pray about it.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.