By Barb Arland-Fye
While proofreading pages for this week’s issue of The Catholic Messenger, my heart skipped a beat reading Father Ken Doyle’s Question Corner. A reader confessed to having trouble concentrating while praying. Father Doyle assured the reader that distraction is a companion to prayer, even for the saints! He said he sometimes prays when he is engaged in other activities, including riding his stationary bike. However, he said, “I need, too, to pray when I am doing nothing else.”
Earlier this week while walking along the Mississippi River on a chilly
morning, I lost my train of thought while praying. I could not pinpoint what caused the distraction, but it might have been the cold, as it penetrated my mittens and jacket. The chaotic times in which we are living might have been a contributing factor.
At any rate, my mind sifted quickly through the card catalogue of prayer categories and priorities that fill my monologue to God. The goal is to have completed the priority intentions by the time I return to the house. I have traveled these paths so often that certain landmarks along the way mark the progress on the prayer list. Who does that? Sometimes, when I return home, still praying, my husband Steve will ask questions or try to start a conversation. On occasion, I have ignored him so that I could finish the prayers!
Last year at this time, I wrote about my appreciation for Catholic author Jane Knuth’s book “The Prayer List.” She shared a story about inheriting a prayer list from her Aunt Kay, and adding to it until it became unmanageable.
“First, I wrote down everyone in the family who was struggling with something. Looking it over, I felt bad about leaving people off, so I filled in the rest of the family, too, whether they needed it or not. I have a big family, and this was a long list,” Jane wrote. I consider her my soulmate because of our thoughts and feelings about our Prayer List.
However, I still have not taken the step of committing those names to a printed or digital list, perhaps because of the satisfaction of committing them to memory.
A few years ago, while visiting another parish out of town, I literally bumped into a woman I did not know personally but had been on my Prayer List. When she introduced herself, I felt a sense of joy. “I’ve been praying for you!” I told her. She appreciated the prayers.
Prayer and exercise have been tandem activities for most of my life. I do sit still, for the most part, while praying Morning and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours with my husband, Steve. Both of us occasionally become distracted while praying the Liturgy of the Hours if we are tired or preoccupied. Sometimes, our distraction results in changing a word or two in a psalm or canticle and we end up laughing. I do not consider it blasphemous; God knows what is in our hearts.
The funny thing about Father Doyle’s column, I read it the night before the morning walk that I became distracted in prayer. God has a sense of humor, too. I plan to continue exercising while praying because it has become a tradition to hold on to — in turbulent as well as calm times.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)