Talking of positive thinking and mindfulness within the context of prayer, as I did last week, I promised to go on to deal with how we all might learn to listen more to God. We all know how easily “the cares of the world” (Matt 13:18-23) as Jesus calls them in the Parable of the Sower, can stop us from really doing what God wants us to do.
We have a classic example in our Gospel today (Luke 12:13-21) where Jesus warns us of the dangers of being obsessed by our money and our possessions. Obsessed is the important word here. There is nothing wrong with money as such, but as I hope we all know, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” ( 1 Tim 6:10). When they first introduced the Lottery I started spending a pound a week on it, and then realised that half my prayer time was spent imagining all the good I could do if I won a million pounds. I had to stop, because such thoughts, even if they appear good, are actually a waste of time!
Our 2nd Reading (Col 3:1-5.9-11) tells us that our thoughts must be “on heavenly things”, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about our money; what it means is that we should think about our money in the way that God would want us to. This surely means recognising that all our money comes ultimately from God, and all should be used in God’s service. God wants us to have good things, food, clothing, holidays, but not to become obsessed by them, nor to spend so much on ourselves that we don’t spend enough helping others, or furthering the work of the Church. So we need to be listening to God, when we shop & when we examine our Bank balance or our Credit Card bill, not just when we are formally praying.
Did you notice that it was the greatest danger in that list in our 2nd Reading? It’s easy to get stuck on the first danger “fornication”, and not notice that the one Paul thinks is most dangerous is the evil desire that he calls “greed”. Yes, there it is, greed for more money, more things, like the man in the Gospel who had to start building bigger barns for all his goods.
What I’m suggesting therefore is that we must turn everything into prayer, bring God into everything, rather than putting prayer and life into two separate compartments. This doesn’t mean we have to put our hands together and say “Oh God help me spend my money wisely” before we shop, although it might be a good idea if we are a shopaholic! What it means is simply thinking carefully about everything we do, and remembering always that we are called to serve God in everything, not just in church once a week. It means realising that every part of our life is prayer, that God is with us all the time, whether we think about this consciously or not. Our prayer time, therefore, in Church or wherever, should not be simply to seek the peace we don’t get in the rest of our busy life, but ought to aim to bring some of God’s peace and presence into that life so that we think about everything in life in a rather more thoughtful way.
So when we pray, and our mind starts wandering off into what we are going to do once we leave Church, what we are going to do when we stop praying; instead of trying to shut out these so-called “distractions”, we should bring them into our prayer. Then, when we do stop praying, in the formal sense of that word, we take the prayer, the sense of the presence of God with us into our everyday world. But surely, you might say, we need times just to turn off completely, to practise “mindfulness” in the way you spoke of last week? Yes, that’s true, but when the everyday world invades our mindfulness, then I’m suggesting that we bring that world gently into the stillness, rather than desperately trying to exclude it.
One of the ways we can practise this is to draw into our prayer the things that might otherwise disturb us. At Mass, instead of getting irritated by the noise of some child, we should bring that noise into our prayer, thanking God that we have children with us in church. When at home or in church some noise from something outside distracts us, that thumping music, that road drill, that ice-cream van jingle, we’ll get nowhere in our prayers if we start getting irritated by the noise. We just have to accept that it is there, and find a different kind of silence, even in the midst of noise.
Most of us are pretty good at NOT listening to what the priest or deacon says in his Homily, especially if it is boring – drifting away into our own thoughts. But when I do this I treat it as a time of prayer, of just being with God, of letting the drone of the preacher help me to pray, rather than spoiling things for me. If we can do that for preachers, surely we can do that for other things too? So remember always and everywhere “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things”