Restlessness in Prayer

(from Will and Spirit by Gerald G. May. p.318)

Appreciation of silence does not come with the same ease and readiness to all people.  Some find no difficulty at all in sitting still for hours at a time.  Others become fidgety and frustrated after only a few minutes.  It has been my experience that there is little qualitative difference between these two styles in terms of the value of silence.  For the person to whom it comes easily, it is often necessary to sit for protracted periods of time.  For the restless and fidgety, a few moments may truly be sufficient.  Therefore, if there is any advantage at all, it is probably on the side of the restless, for they can be more efficient with their time.  Yet sadly it is usually these people who having made a few furtive and frustrating attempts at formal prayer or meditation resign themselves to the belief that “I will never be a contemplative” simply because they cannot sit still for long.  Often this is too quick a conclusion.

Ironically, it is often those people who find the most difficulty in practicing formal contemplative disciplines who not only know the trials and frustrations very well, but also many of them have developed spontaneous styles of internal quiet that they may not even recognize.  Such internal quiet may occur in certain physical activities, and sometimes even in mental or verbal actions.  If these could be identified and enriched by as little as one or two minutes of open quiet a day, the contemplative contributions of many such people would be truly great.  But the stereotype of the contemplative is too entrenched in the modern mind.  The contemplative image is of disciplined and extensive retreat and stillness, sitting cross-legged or kneeling for hours on end.  People who cannot align themselves with this image tend to feel inadequate and are seldom encouraged to find their own contemplative ways.  When this happens, a great spiritual resource is lost.

January 01, 2009 by Gerald May
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