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Within the Confirmation programme that we ran every year we would always have a specific event looking at, and experiencing, different types of prayer. One of my favourite parts of the session was when the young people were given the opportunity to write their own prayers. To do this we would provide them with a randomly drawn couple of words or phrase, on which to base the prayer(s) they were to write. Typically we would ask for two prayers from each participant, which would be combined with all of the others to form a prayer booklet from the programme for that particular year.
Words or phrases might include: “Thank you”, “Why me”, “I Can’t” or “Time”, “Friends”, “Sorry!” And many others. One of the most interesting prayers that resulted, and sticks in my memory, was based on, “Oh No!” It read:
I’ve got prayer block!
It sticks with me for a couple of stand out reasons. Firstly, I don’t believe the writer was trying to get out of writing a prayer, but they genuinely couldn’t think of what they wanted to say. Secondly, it can be the same for any of us when we are put on the spot, ‘Oh No’ is a common reaction, ‘I don’t know what to pray about’, and finally, I recognise that feeling of ‘prayer block’.
It isn’t necessarily that I can’t concentrate on times of prayer, more, if I’m honest, it is about how easily I get distracted. I’m sure we all get distracted by noises, people and thoughts of what else I should have done, but the difficulty I find, is ensuring that in terms of priority I stick to the task.
We can see in many areas of faith where it is very easy to be distracted by focusing on something that is relevant, but not the main issue. A good example of this is as we experienced this last weekend with Gaudete Sunday. The third Sunday of Advent, the invitation to Rejoice and the third candle of our Advent wreath depicting Joy. But, what is often the focus and talking point? – the colour of the vestments! The ongoing debate about whether they are ‘rose’ or ‘pink’? I have, as with many others, have covered it in my homilies during Advent (and Lent), and each year there are comments aplenty.
Does it matter if it is ‘rose’ or ‘pink’? Surely the main point is that it is different to highlight that we should be both preparing and rejoicing as we move towards Christmas Day. The colour is just a distraction, perhaps because it is less demanding to think about, or less challenging than the true message of what we should be doing to prepare for the upcoming feast?
Distractions are often what we might consider to be more appealing than the task in hand, in fact at times we might even welcome or seek distractions. So what can we do to avoid this?
When it comes to time for prayer, it is often a good idea to try and eliminate the opportunities for distraction before I start. A suitable, comfortable space. Turning off any noise, eg: television, radio etc.. Placing our mobile phone out of reach, hearing and eyesight, plus not looking out of a window. It can also be a good idea to have a focal point. This could be a lit candle, a crucifix, or perhaps even an icon or suitable picture.
However, have I overlooked the importance of my time that I spend in prayer, when I should be remembering that it is an essential intimate part of my relationship with God the Father himself. If I have a block or distraction with giving time to this relationship, then Advent is a good time to give this some consideration.
So in these last couple of weeks before we celebrate the birth of Christ, now is a good time to consider what is the cause of my prayer block and how I could eliminate any distractions that take me away from my prayer life and those relationship moments with the Father.
Deacon Ian Black