Giving Distractions to God

I’m reading a wonderful book by an Anglican deacon named Una Kroll; it’s called Vocation to Resistance: Contemplation and Change. It’s about how the contemplative life is, in essence, a life of resistance — choosing an alternative to the noisy, acquisitive, competitive, and violent nature of the world we live in. It’s a charming and insightful read.

I was thinking about quoting Kroll’s insightful discussion of distractions during prayer, but to do her justice it would have to be a rather long quote, too long for fair use. So I’ll just give you a quick summary of my understanding of her thoughts.

Basically, she suggests that the key to dealing with distractions is to step back from them, and envision what God is doing in and with the very distractions themselves.

What I have found most helpful is to look for what God is doing in the immediate moment. This involves seeing two images at once. One sees the distracting image or thought clearly: simultaneously, one sees what God is being and doing in that situation.

She goes on to encourage her reader that this requires the “knack” of doing two things at once, and she offers several examples of why this is not so difficult a thing to do (driving while listening to the radio; reading a book while knitting; etc.). So in prayer, when distractions arise, Kroll invites us not to resist them, or even to ignore them, but, as it were, to give them to God, allowing the mind’s eye to see what God is doing with and in the very stuff of our distractions.

So, if you’re worried about a confrontation with a co-worker — imagine the loving presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the difficult discussion. If you’re entranced by a new romance, reflect on how the love you feel for your sweetheart finds its ultimate origin in the Divine Mystery. Even if you’re just mentally singing your favorite song or revisiting your favorite passage in a Harry Potter book, allow those mental diversions to become arenas for deepening intimacy with God.

Granted, this qualifies as more of a kataphatic, than apophatic, form of prayer. If you are committed to silent contemplation, then at some point even the mental consideration of God’s action may have to be gently laid under the cloud of forgetting. But in the meantime, this strategy might well be a deeply prayerful way to tame the monkey mind — or, at least, to give its incessant chatter to the source of all love.

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  • Ellen N. Duell

    Even the “monkey mind” is holy. (I feel very blest by your sharing of Una Kroll’s insights.) Yes, monkeys chatter, and seem incessantly busy with–fleas? bananas?–the baby monkeys? But they are God’s creations, and so are loved by God–and us. When we were children, didn’t we love monkeys? How about “Curious George”?!! –Ellen Duell

  • Ellen N. Duell

    I DID type a comment. What is the matter? Did the monkeys run away with it? –Ellen Duell

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    If the monkeys did run away with it, it appears they brought it back. :-)

  • lightbearer

    zen mind, beginner’s mind……….as a contemplative and meditation primer ,hard to beat.
    one can read it many times, rather than many books read once
    in the similar way with your present blog carl the author advises no resistance and likens arising thoughts to the waves in the ocean,thoughts being the natural working of the mind

  • JoAnn

    As an aside…I’m back on the blog and FB, Carl. Glad to see you.

  • suzanne kurtz

    Hi Carl,
    Kroll’s intention is understandable, yet, once again, from my perpsective, it puts the “ego” back in charge, attempting to gain a result, to seek an outcome. I feel more at home with Underhill’s old way of, simply making of oneself, a “self-donation” to God during silent prayer. Later, after prayer time, one might carry on with great gusto, exploring and envisioning what God is doing in and with those distractions.
    (PS Loving 366 Celtic. Blessings from Suzanne (the stamp lady)!


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