Wandering thoughts in prayer

When you tackle the subject of meditation and prayer, inevitably the issue of wandering thoughts comes up. It’s helpful to note that even quite famous contemplatives struggled with this issue. Following is an extract from Brother Lawrence’s, “Practicing the Presence of God”.

Eighth Letter: You tell me nothing new. You are not the only one who is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving. But the will is mistress of all our faculties. She must recall our stray thoughts and carry them to God as their final end.

If the mind is not sufficiently controlled and disciplined at our first engaging in devotion, it contracts certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation. These are difficult to overcome. The mind can draw us, even against our will, to worldly things. I believe one remedy for this is to humbly confess our faults and beg God’s mercy and help.

I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer. Many words and long discourses are often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If your mind sometimes wanders and withdraws itself from Him, do not become upset. Trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it. The will must bring it back in tranquillity. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you.

One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times. Keep your mind strictly in the presence of God. Then being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings. I have told you already of the advantages we may draw from this practice of the presence of God. Let us set about it seriously and pray for one another.

NB: Brother Lawrence lived from 1611-1691.

Love – the true sign of meditation mastery

When you hear the word meditation, what comes to mind? Is it the saffron robed guru from India or the monk from Tibet? Is it the scantily clad supermodel sitting in a lotus position on a beach? Is it a medieval hermit sitting on top of a mountain? Maybe a young Wiccan sitting in a circle of candles? Whatever it is, I suspect few would think of a Christian. Yet, here I am.

In an image-saturated society, Christian meditators often conjure up a mental blank. We go largely unrecognised. Yet in a sense, that is the essence of the Christian path. After all, Jesus was quite critical of people who thought externals made them “spiritual” and never sought to stand out from the crowd in this way himself.

So what does make the truly spiritual person stand out? I think the apostle Paul summed it up perfectly in 1 Corinthians 13 – it’s not how flashy or gifted they are – it’s their faith, their hope and their love, but especially their love. This and this alone, is the true sign of spiritual mastery according to the New Testament teachings.

Discernment and Trance Phenomena

Anticipating that some evangelicals may be freaked out by any discussion on trance experience, or alternatively, have no idea what I am talking about, I though I'd draw your attention to an interesting article from John Court entitled Discerning between the Emotional, the Psychotic and the Spiritual

Dr John Court was Professor of Psychology in the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, and is now Director of Counseling at Tabor College in Adelaide.

John examines the phenomenology of trance from a Christian perspective and offers some valuable reality checks, both pro and con.

I would highly recommend his book Hypnosis Healing and the Christian to anyone who has interests or concerns with this subject.

Proverbs 3 Meditation

I thought I’d a share a short meditation based Proverbs 3.

It involves focussing on the following passage, and Jesus who is its ultimate focus, while you breath deeply.

(Breath in)  Trust in the Lord with all your heart

(Breath out) And lean not on your own understanding

(Breath in)  In all your ways acknowledge him

(Breath out) And he will make your paths straight


I find this useful in times of stress. Once you’ve memorised it, the passage fits quite well with a rhythmic breathing and helps mental focus on a number of levels.

Biblical Meditation

Is meditation biblical? Surprising as it may seem, the answer is yes. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. Here’s what the bible has to say:

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. [Joshua 1:8]

Torture is never justifiable

From Amnesty International:

139 countries and several international criminal tribunals agree.

In response to an article published in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers today, Amnesty International restates its view that torture is never justifiable. Amnesty International absolutely deplores any suggestion that torture or other ill-treatment is acceptable for any reason, or at any time. Amnesty International believes that to flout the rule of law, to torture, to humiliate, is to undermine long-term security. Respect for human rights is the route to security, not the obstacle to it.

“It is absolutely astonishing and appalling that anybody would justify the use of torture on moral, pragmatic or any other grounds.” Amnesty International Australia’s spokesperson, Nicole Bieske said. “The prohibition against torture at all times and in all circumstances is not negotiable”.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are universally punishable crimes. In all of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals established to date, not one has accepted any justifications for torture or ill-treatment, nor have they found that torturing or otherwise ill-treating certain people is anything less than a crime.

Furthermore, it is generally accepted that torture does not produce the desired result of the perpetrator – quite the opposite. People who are tortured will give any answer to stop it continuing.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances under international law. This fact is irrespective of the guilt or innocence of the person subjected to it. This means that there is never any justification for the use of torture.

Governments around the world have recognised and committed to this prohibition. One hundred and thirty nine countries have signed up to the Convention Against Torture which explicitly states that torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is never acceptable or justifiable.

Not enough (official) torture in the world?

Two Australian academics have argued sparked off a moral firestorm by arguing that torture should be legal even if it causes the death of innocent people.

In a paper soon to be published in a US law journal, the head of Deakin University’s law school, Mirko Bagaric, and his colleague Julie Clarke argue that when many lives are in imminent danger, “all forms of harm” may be inflicted on terrorist suspects or persons of interest “even if this results in his or her annihilation”.

A surprising revelation is that Professor Mirko Bagaric is also a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal and a lecturer in human rights law. On Tuesday he defended his controversial paper, entitled ‘Not Enough Official Torture in the World? The Circumstances in which Torture is Morally Justifiable’, arguing that torture is justifiable “when it is the only means possible in order to avert a moral catastrophe”.

I have to wonder whether this paper, is itself, a moral catastrophe.

However, rather than demonizing the two professors, I think Christian leaders need to look deeper and consider to what extend they are merely extending and making explicit what is already implicit in many public moral debates: that the end justifies the means; that violence can have redemptive value.

Let’s look at the train of logic:

  1. Self-defence is a right
  2. Defence of others is an extension of self-defense
  3. We have the moral responsibility to defend the majority using any means necessary
  4. Torture is in some cases necessary

I think its the third point that we need to look at really closely. Most Christians would accept its ok to waive our own right to self defense. After all, Jesus did that. But what about for others? Is it ever morally justifiable to refuse to defend others? I think this is where people get stuck. So I want to pose a few questions:

  • How does ‘ends justifies the means’ thinking undermine Christian moral authority?
  • Is violence ever truly redemptive?
  • How should our resurrection hope shape our response?