Sometimes I am asked what I do when I sit down for mental prayer/ meditation, and I have to be honest with you, the answer is not really that simple. When I began to write about the different ways of relating to the Lord (see the section with the heading), I was trying to describe how I spend my holy hour every day. In fact, it was originally written to my spiritual direction as a description of my prayer life. After I looked at it, the idea came to take out the personal pronouns and the things that made it seem like a first-hand account, and then post it on the website.
As I have written more and more on the ways of relating to the Lord and as I have talked with people about their experiences, I have become convinced that growth in mental prayer involves a certain flexibility in one’s ability to navigate the silence. We can engage in different strategies based on what’s going on, we learn that we can pray in any circumstance and under any condition. The key is not trying to get our prayer to fit into a set ideal of what we should or should not be doing. Methods and other guides are merely preparations that are meant to bring us to the place of spontaneity in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
One way of thinking of meditation that I think people can find helpful is found in the title of this post. To help get an idea of the potential of our period of mental prayer, I would like to propose that we think of it as intentional and spontaneous meandering. In any given period of prayer, we can walk with the Lord in the vast variety of thoughts, feelings, and desires which surface in our interior life without any set agenda or plan. The relational part is important, but I think people should have a certain confidence that the Lord is always with them, even when that awareness is not as front and center as we would like.
Of course, if such an outlook leads to anxiety and other disordered patterns of thinking, feeling, desiring, then one should engage different strategies to help bring healing and restore stillness. That being said, I think that having a playful attitude towards meditation in which we give ourselves permission to meander can be incredibly helpful in helping to facilitate greater receptivity to the Holy Spirit. In time, patterns will emerge, and when coupled with discernment, we will learn to see how the Holy Spirit is working in what appears to be a random collection of inspirations.
So I encourage you to give yourself some meandering time each day. When you sit down to your 20 minutes or hour or more of meditation, don’t be afraid to see your mind bounce around or move in unexpected directions. Trust that in time the Holy Spirit will grant you the spiritual instinct to navigate these inspirations so as to discover the will of the Father. Let me know how your journey goes!