Andy Hawes 


Considers using the mind


The subject of dealing with distractions often arises in conversations about prayer. Distraction often features in conversations about participating in worship. This could be praying an Office alone or being at Mass with a congregation. The mind drifts away, it loses focus and attention. The effect of this is often frustration and sometimes a deep sense of failure. All this is often the subject of conversation in the confessional.

The mind will wander rather than wonder if it is left to its own devices. One of the chief causes of meandering is found in how the worship begins. If physically and emotionally it has a meandering beginning; if the conversation at the door continues to the pew; if the arrival at the point of departure for prayer is not marked by a stop, look and listen routine the mind stands no chance of being up to the task. The mind obeys the will, and the will is shaped by desire. That is the common conclusion of those who over the centuries have taught and refined the practice of mental prayer.

Prayer and worship of any integrity has to be in and with the Spirit. It is a spiritual task and therefore it requires the invocation of the Spirit. It is necessary to ask for what we need. We need an attentive mind, and an open heart and soul to receive, we need to pray that all we are and do in the time we are offering will further God’s Kingdom and give Him Glory. The Collect for Purity is a wonderful example of the prayer that is required at the  beginning of prayer and worship.

Now the will comes into its own: we must make a deliberate, conscious choice to align our will with our prayerful desire. Yes, we may start drifting off to the cricket score, or the question as to whether the gas bill has been paid, but the will when woken up by prayer and desire can call us back to the here and now. The will can help us in attentiveness :by being attentive to words, to the action and drama of the liturgy, the will can decide that we can look with a new perspective and listen with a keener tuning of the ear. Some people will find it helpful to return to the printed page rather than the reciting from memory to renew their worship.

That are some key moments in any liturgy. Movements of posture, changes in the focus of action, break the worship down into smaller movements and make a new beginning. Being attentive to posture can certainly help in any kind of prayer and worship: we have to sit up straight, or stand up straight to pay attention. Kneeling , being a posture reserved almost entirely for prayer and worship, can make a huge difference to reinvigorating the mind in the pursuit of its aim and desire.

In a way similar to the effect of physical exercise to strengthen and develop the body, so the spiritual exercises of  preparatory prayer, use of  body posture and regularly renewing the focus of the mind, when repeated in a disciplined way will strengthen the control of the will over the mind.