Tuesday, June 05, 2012

How to deal with divine attention deficit disorder

Photo by craigCloutier

This blog has a lot of prayers. Like, a LOT. So you might assume I like to pray, or that I'm good at praying, or that praying comes easily to me.

That assumption is incorrect.

What I actually have is divine attention deficit disorder. The chatty voices in my head like to have one-sided conversations with a Renaissance-esque mental picture of a gray-bearded man sitting on a cloud, surrounded by fat winged babies and laser-like sunbeams. They never pause to listen, which doesn't matter, because the mental picture never bothers to respond.

My prayer life is a bunch of prattle. I check off intentions like so many items on a grocery list. I ask for the things I think I should ask for (strength for friends, patience, world peace) rather than what I want to ask for (jobs for friends, health cures, a boyfriend). My brain declares one thing, my heart mutters another, and it creates a din that not even a saint could shout over.

So you don't have to wonder why I was excited to read Jessica Edgerton's post "Confessions of a Bad Pray-er" over at RELEVANT Magazine. She too has divine attention deficit disorder, and is prone to all sorts of tangents and daydreams.

One of my own! I thought as I read it. But then she made a point that stopped me in my tracks:
[...] as I’m starting to drift, I’m still trying to keep it God-focused. I’m not really talking to God, but I’m at least using the excuse that I’m still talking about God. They’re not so far removed from each other, right?

But then notice the digression. I fool myself into believing that it’s still time with God since I’m considering “serious theological issues” and that those considerations are as valuable as praying. Which they aren’t. And that I’m truly communing with God. Which I’m not.

Oh crap. I started this blog because I was having trouble praying, and I thought making it a formal exercise would help me reflect. Every week I try to make some aspect of my life God-focused. And every week I usually fail to pray the prayer I'm writing.

So how in the world can I achieve communion (which in and of itself sounds very lofty and difficult)? Well, maybe a start is to ditch the term 'communion' altogether.

For example, my spiritual director once told me that prayer is simply quality time with God. She likes to spend it over tea; she just pours a hot cup, curls up in her armchair, watches the sun set, and sits with God.

That's it. No petitions. No litanies. No formal attempt at dialogue. Just being.

... 

Seriously??? This is a thing???

Maybe it ties to something else Jessica said in her article:
[...] We grasp hold of the times when we remember what it feels like to be close to Him. We struggle through the distractions, the lack of emotion, and sometimes even the boredom because these are the times when struggling in prayer is most important. We talk to God instead of just thinking about God stuff. And when we start to wonder what makes alligators and crocodiles different, we stop, take a breath and try again to change, to get rid of the “little systems” that turn prayer into something that lacks true communion.
God is not easy. Thus, prayer is not easy. Like any relationship, it requires commitment, attentiveness, and practice. We could waste energy beating ourselves up over our all-too-human struggles, or we could start small. Inhale. Exhale. Recall what good times feel like. Pour a cup of tea. Ask God to sit down. And then see what happens.

Prayer #212: Have a Seat

Sit with me, Friend, and listen to the quiet unspool across the dusk. Watch the final swoon of day drape around the windows. Feel the solid weight of me beside You, You beside me. Let's be together, and nothing less.

Amen.

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