Yesterday I bought picture at the Salvation Army for two dollars. It’s a small, framed “Magic Eye” – a 2D image that hides a 3D image. If you stare at it for a while, the 3D image pops out and you say “Whoa!” before it goes flat again. I thought my teenage kids would have fun with it, but it just frustrated them. “I can’t see anything,” one complained.
“How long do I have to stare at this dumb thing?” asked another.
“Let your eyes go blurry,” I suggested. “Or try crossing your eyes.”
Nothing helped, and they eventually gave up in frustration. It reminded me of my recent adventures in prayer, especially the kind of passive prayer where you sit in silence, waiting on God. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the Psalmist. Only knowledge often gets in the way, because human intellect is too small to comprehend God as He really is. Just like my children who tried too hard to see the 3D image, I often let my striving thoughts distract me from my purpose. I experience a kind of mental ADD when trying to center myself in prayer. The advice I get from veteran prayer warriors is to keep at it. I will learn to allow my distracting thoughts to pass by without being frustrated or hampered by them, like noisy kids romping along the street in front of my house. Easier said than done.
It’s difficult enough to sit and meditate on an image or verse of Scripture. Try NOT meditating on anything. Try “to concern yourself with no creature whether material or spiritual nor with their situation and doings whether good or ill,” as one medieval handbook on contemplative prayer suggests. It’s like someone telling you not to think of a white elephant. Guess what mental image immediately springs to mind!
As I sit, eyes closed, trying very hard not to try very hard, I wonder, “How long do I have to stare into the darkness before I see God? How long do I have to listen to silence before I hear His voice?” I am ready to give up when in my failure and frustration I notice something inside me that wasn’t there before: a greater desire for God.
So I sit a little longer.