Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Needle and the Golden Thread - Mental Prayer part 1

I've called this 'Part 1' only because I don't know how much I will write, so there will be more postings but I don't know how many, I'll just keep sharing my thoughts and recent discoveries until there is no more to say. This is not something I'm thoroughly experienced at - I hope to be, but I'm not - but I'm sharing the passion of my thoughts from spiritual reading and the recent living out of those ideas, that's all.

Mental Prayer. I have over the years, grown in the realisation that this is essential to a good life especially one where you have innocent souls looking more to what you do rather than what you say.

{Please Lord, can I go back 13 years? Things would be SOOO different. Old head, where were you when I had young shoulders?}

But it is certainly better late than never... "Never" How that word frightens me. No I will not let "never" haunt me in the autumn of my life. I have received my revelation. I will not fail by God's grace. God's grace. "Ask and you shall receive, knock and the door will be opened to you." Luke 11:9 In prayer and conversation with God each day, I must ask for the grace to do His will. What is that daily conversation called? Mental Prayer. Or meditation...

Do you know how long it has taken me to really understand what those simple words mean? The word 'meditation' is actually misleading, says Alphonsus. He says that meditation in the strict sense means thinking, reflecting and reasoning. So therefore, many tend to believe that meditation is a time to be spent in the exercising of their imaginations. St Aphonsus preferred to use the word, 'mental prayer' keeping thoughts at a minimum and prayers, petitions and affections from the heart, rich and abundant.

Mental prayer is the only sure way to God. Have you ever heard this famous saying? "Those who pray are surely saved and those who do not pray are surely lost." that was St Alphonsus Ligouri.

St Teresa of Avila said, "The devil knows that he has lost the soul that perseveringly practices mental prayer."

Alphonsus Ligouri also said, "Many say the Rosary, the Office, and perform works of devotion; yet still continue in sin. But mental prayer and sin cannot exist together." (Though the Rosary that is properly meditated upon IS mental prayer, but how many persevere in that depth of meditation upon the mysteries?)

I want to share with you some more sayings of Saint Alphonsus on mental prayer:

"The first means to love Jesus Christ, is mental prayer."

"Mental prayer is a familiar conversation and union with God, and consists not so much in thinking as in making affections, petitions and resolutions."

"If God does not bestow His graces upon us, the fault is ours; it is because we do not ask them of Him. All mental prayer should consist in acts and petitions."

"Remember that the devil labours hard to disturb us in the time of meditation, in order to make us abandon it. Let him who omits mental prayer on account of distractions be persuaded that he gives delight to the devil."

"In going to meditation, never propose to yourself your own pleasure and satisfaction, but only to please God, and to learn what He wishes you to do."


When I first started to put aside the first 15-30mins of my day in mental prayer I quickly fell into the wrong perception of what mental prayer really is. I have since learnt that it is a common mistake. I thought that I needed to find a lovely quote from the Bible or from a religious commentary and really think and ponder upon it. I found in time that it wasn't easy...I'd soon run out of 'thoughts' and need to find another quote to think upon.

So this lead to the habit of reading too much. I was searching for 'thoughts' to grab me, so that I could think more, but often it would take a bit of reading to find that particular prevoking passage. It sort of turned into spiritual reading...in the end I was burnt out by my confusion. It took time to find nice passages and something told me deep down that too much reading wasn't really mental prayer...

Recently I was given a wonderful little informal booklet, titled: "Method of Mental Prayer of St Alphonsus Ligouri" It is short, brief BUT ENLIGHTENING. I've read about Mental Prayer before, long tracts and books on it. But it didn't sink in. I'm a very visual person and if you give me an analogy, I'll probably get it. This booklet gave me a hum-dinger of an analogy - The Needle and the Golden Thread.

What is the needle? The thinking of God, the reflection of Him and His goodness, often using some passage or sentence to inspire them.

What is the golden thread? This is the spontaneous prayer, which comes after short reflection and it can be with or without words.

I'll go on to quote from the booklet:

"The progress of the soul does not consist in thinking much of God, but loving Him ardently."

In mental prayer we apply the needle swiftly, not pausing too long on it (thinking of God) It is the slow drawing of the golden thread (conversation with God) that is the real power of mental prayer.

Quoting the booklet again:

"To help your mind, read a text of Scripture or a short Meditation out of a book. St Teresa used a book in her Meditations for seventeen years. Meditate for a few minutes on any thought that has struck you; that is think for a short time on what it means, what lessons it teaches you, and ask yourself: What have I done about this hitherto? What shall I now do? But remember, you think only in order that you may pray.

The great benefit of Mental Prayer consists less in meditation or thinking than in acts, prayers and resolutions, which are the fruits of Meditation. The thinking is the needle which draws after it the golden thread of acts, prayers and resolutions. The thread is more important than the needle. "

We deftly apply the needle, we slowly draw the golden thread.

I look back on my attempts at mental prayer and see myself now as stalling over the application of the needle, to the point of pricking my finger upon it and finally giving up, sad and sore. (just my visual analogy for past attempts) I was hardly drawing the thread through! I'd run out of time and put down my 'tapestry of prayer' - lots of pin holes, not much thread woven into the fabric, in otherwords, with hardly anything to show...

7 comments:

Matilda said...

Happy Easter to my favorite Aussie and her sweet family!

Anne (aussieannie) said...

A happy Easter to you as well Matilda, I do hope you are all feeling better (in otherwords, your lent is definately behind you!) and enjoying this blessed day and season.

Meredith said...

That was simply beautiful and divinely inspired Annie!! Happy Easter to you and your adorable family! Love,

MT said...

Anne, another wonderful post! I'd love to know - what are your favorite devotions? Also, when you pray the rosary do you use any aids to help you pray it? Which ones do you recommend?

Happy Easter to you and your family!

Love,
Maria :)

molly said...

Blessed Easter Anne and family.

Purpleflowerpatch said...

Wonderful word picture, Anne - something I *get*! Looking forward to part 2.

Marjorie said...

As you can tell my blog reading is WAY behind :-) Thank you for the wonderful post on mental prayer and how dependent we can become on finding a thought or quote to grab us. I have often thought during my prayer time that it was more spiritual reading than prayer. Ouch! Some pricks are needed.