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Multi-tasking is supposed to be the key to efficiency and has become so exalted that doing only one task at a time may seem to some to be ineffectual or incompetent.

However, difficulties in prayer arise not from problems with multi-tasking but an inability to mono-task.  How often have I come to the end of a psalm, only to realise that I’ve been thinking of several other things and ceased praying the psalm (really) at around the second verse?  How often does an examen at the end of a tiring day take twice as long because of the brain’s inability to focus on one thing at a time?  How many times in these last two months have I uttered, ‘and also with you‘ because I’ve been thinking, ‘this child needs the loo,’ or some similar thought?

Praying while we busy our hands with other things good and laudable*.  However, during our time-that-is-only-for-prayer our aim, our challenge, is to only pray.  This needs preparation.  If we fail to prepare properly for prayer, we set ourselves up for a half-hour’s battle against a multi-tasking brain that can’t resist compiling a shopping list, thinking over a conversation we had yesterday and composing a letter to The Times at the same time. It is like, I suppose, taking the phone ‘off the hook’ in order to give ones attention fully to God.

So, to prepare for prayer: Teresa of Avila wrote of vocal prayer (though it applies to mental prayer too) that only three things are necessary:  an awareness of who we are; an awareness of whom we are addressing and an awareness of what we are saying.  Those first two are the context rather than the focus of our mental prayer: we have placed ourselves in the presence of God, we have sought – and gained – an audience with Him.  Having established ourselves in the presence of God, taking the phone ‘off the hook’, we then converse with ‘Him whom my heart loves’.

It sounds so simple because it is so simple.  Our problem is that we are not sufficiently simple: we find ourselves thinking of several other things besides ‘Him whom my heart loves’.  We need to gain and retain this awareness of who we are and whom we are addressing… then we will be ready to only pray.


* For more on this topic, see ‘Pray while Smoking’

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