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Sister Doreen’s Reflections

“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quietly, gently and replace it tenderly in God’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in God’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”  (St. Francis de Sales)

When asked the question “Do you have difficulty with distractions during your prayer time?” nearly all of us would answer yes! It is important that we do not feel guilty! I believe that no one is immune to distractions, and in almost every book about prayer, you will find something about distractions!

One of the most helpful comments about distractions in prayer that I have found was a quote made by Luther: “Distractions are like birds flying round your head. You can’t stop them flying, but you don’t have to let them build nests in your hair.” It is perhaps a call to gentleness with ourselves, that gentle return to our intention in the first place: to spend time with God. In gentleness to smile at the distraction and return to our intention – time with God. What may be helpful to others, is what I imagine for myself and sometimes actually set the stage physically: with two cups of tea or coffee, I sit down with my special company – God. A cup of tea for God and a cup of tea for me! Sometimes it really helps to see a cup sitting next to another chair, a outward reminder of that inner truth that God is always present to us, waiting to enjoy our company.

This gentle approach helps the mind to settle, it is no good trying to drive away one’s thoughts. As we gently settle, we allow our thoughts to die down of their own accord. Then Inevitably thoughts, memories and imaginations arise, and in gentleness do not be afraid of them, do not develop them, and do not follow them: but gently give them up to God. There perhaps they will be healed but know also that there they are safe in the loving hands of God. Return to your intention of spending time with God, you the beloved of the Beloved.

So often when we stop and take time for prayer there is that loosening or releasing of all that we have held in during our busy and often times too busy self. Our fears, our doubts, our envies and resentments, our passions may all at one time or another find their way into our silence and time with God. In gentleness we do not encourage nor to we turn away, but again offer it up to God – gift it all into God’s hands, there to be healed or kept safe. This is so important, for it is the way into a deeper freedom, a more genuine wholeness and completeness in God. It is the way to openness and growth in maturity.

Robert Llewelyn has some specific suggestions that I found helpful:

  • Accept the situation with hope; it’s not for destruction but for healing
  • You didn’t encourage whatever thoughts to come; don’t encourage them now they are here
  • Don’t try not to think of them; don’t try to run away from them. they will chase you even more
  • Don’t pretend they aren’t there; accept that they are rising in you
  • Continue to look to (at) God strongly and firmly (return to focus, – mantra, passage of scripture, etc)
  • Recognize whatever thoughts come but do nothing to analyse them or develop them or pursue them. Hand them over to God and allow them to go where they will, how they will. Allow them to float on the periphery of consciousness or float out of the consciousness altogether.

There are times when sometimes our distractions can be trying to tell us something. Margaret Silf in her book “Taste and See” says that if a particular distraction just won’t let you go (an argument you had, disappointing news, anger, etc} it can be worthwhile taking it on board and asking God to show you where it is pointing. In effect, you are taking your ‘distraction’ into prayer, and it may be that when you do this, the distraction will actually become part of the destination because it has its roots in something that needs your prayerful attention.

In all of this, I know that the love of God holds us in being in a way that will never let us go, whatever we do or fail to do. In gentleness we need to remember that our feelings are neither good or bad, it is our response to our feelings that can be good or bad, creative or destructive. The more we fear or flee our feelings, the more power they have over us. By gift giving them into the hands of God is to have found the way to peace and harmony, even if only for a little while!

There also may be times when the way that we have most familiarly spent our time of prayer with God seems not to be working, and perhaps we need to consider a different form or way of prayer. But this would need to be the subject of a different Saturday reflection!

So for today – be gentle with yourself, persist in prayer, don’t try to evaluate your prayer time, and try to be totally non-judgmental!