This got me thinking as I was reading this morning while on the “john” (or as Zef would call it, my “bog reading”; emphasis mine):
A common obstacle to prayer is distraction. “I throw myself down in my chamber,” the poet and Anglican priest John Donne confessed, “and I call in, and invite God, and his Angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his Angels, for a noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door.” Attention to an icon can sometimes help overcome distraction.
Being honest in prayer is another problem for many people. There is a temptation to present ourselves in prayer in our polite “Sunday best,” as if God were a sour-tempered great-aunt whose main interest was the correct arrangement of silverware and using the right paper for thank you notes. There is no point in putting ourselves on our best behavior when we pray, pretending to be some other, better, more refined person. “We often want one thing and pray for another, not telling the truth even to the gods,” observed the Roman writer Seneca two-generations before the birth of Christ. For us it might be, “I am one thing and in prayer pretend to be another, not being truthful about who I am even with God.”
The fear of God is nothing like all those fears which undermine our being. It means to stand in awe of the incomprehensible, the Creator of the universe with all its wonders and mysteries, God who is both more intimate than breath and as remote as the darkness beyond the furthest star. But a person overwhelmed with anxiety tends to limit prayer to complains and appeals. Keep in mind the advice that angels give in nearly every biblical account we have about them: “Be not afraid.” A vital prayer life opens the door for God gradually to help us move fear from the center to the edge of daily life.
Another obstacle to prayer is preoccupation with time.
I remember an experience I had during the late sixties when I was accompanying Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and poet from Vietnam who was giving lectures in the United States. We were at the University of Michigan, waiting for the elevator doors to open. I noticed my brown-robed companion was looking at the electric clock above the elevator doors. Then he said, “You know, Jim, a few hundred years ago it would not have been a clock; it would have been a crucifix.”
He was right. The clock is a religious object in our world, one so powerful that it can depose another.
Jim Forest, “The Need to Pray (pp. 33-35)”, Praying with Icons (1997: Maryknoll, NY USA, Orbis Books, 10th printing 2006)
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