Posts in Noise
The Real Benefit of Solitude
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A recent podcast with Erik Fisher and Cal Newport brought to light the topic of solitude. Newport, the Georgetown professor and author of Deep Work cites Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership by Solitude by  Raymond R. Kethledge who describes solitude as “a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds”.


This makes sense. We’ve all been alone in a solitary way- you’re by yourself in a room and no one else is around. Some of us are more comfortable with this than others. Introverts in particular revel in this form of solitude- it’s a space to recharge.


There are other forms of solitude as well. Think about it- each of us can also relate to being alone but in the context of other people. You go for a run and see other people also working out, you find a coffee shop to do some work and see dozens of others walk in and out of the shop. This is a surprising sort of aloneness- alone but with others. Sort of an “alone togetherness”.


There’s alone by myself and alone in the context of others.


Newport’s point: rich solitude (i.e. “good” solitude) is that which is free from the influence of others’ minds. You’re alone, in one way or another, and free to think and pray on your own. You may be in public. You may be surrounded by hundreds of other people. Still, you have a sense of self, a space to think and pray on your own.


There is tremendous power in this. It applies very much to prayer.


The average person is quite busy. They have commitments and errands and places to be. I know that I do. Now consider the busy Christian- still running around but expected to be prayerful at the same time. This is where prayerfulness gets tested. I sat recently with a couple and their three young children. The wife, obviously a good mother, admitted that some days are just so full of this-and-thats that she forgets to pray.

 

I totally get it. Can you relate? 


The million dollar question emerges quickly enough: how do you maintain prayerfulness amidst a busy schedule? Or, in layman’s terms- how do you take your faith with you?


And here is where we apply Kethledge’s concept of solitude. The Christian, embedded in the world, is prayerful because they retain that sense of self while they are going about their day. They find moments of prayer because they have cultivated the muscle of returning to their source: their relationship with God. They know that God has loved them and grounds them in a profound sense of adoption. They bring solitude with them and then, when God-inspiration-faith strikes, they activate their solitude and reconvene with the Lord. 


This relationship with God “pops up” at various times during the day- a spontaneous thought, a recollection of something they read in the Scriptures, a vocal prayer that emerges. These are delightful and can be unexpected. The good news is that you can become a more prayerful person and these God-moments can become the norm rather than the exception. 

 

You really can practice a healthy solitude as a result of never being fully alone. God is always with you and you can revel in this truth. Now that puts new light on solitude.

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Seven Simple Ways to Sit Still
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It’s not easy to sit still. Think about it. When was the last time that you sat comfortably and just looked out a window, day dreaming about something?

If you’re like most of us, the urge to check your phone can quickly overwhelm what might have been a quiet moment. That daydream? Out the window with another glance at Facebook or Instagram.

It may be deeper than this. Sure, we’re addicted to our smartphones. What if there are other things at play besides this?

In this post, we’ll examine the causes of our difficulty in sitting still for prayer. Then, we will map out seven simple ways to help you become an expert when it comes to sitting still.

The Causes

When you want to have a quiet time, it’s important to be able to sit still. No fidgeting. No distractions. This is of course, harder than it sounds. From my experience, there are four causes to our inability to sit still:

  • Distraction: if you’re home alone, it’s much easier to sit still. If you’re in a church full of hundreds of people, not so much. If there’s a lot of noise around you, sitting still will be difficult.
  • Access to gadgets: what’s close by? Is your phone in your hand? If so, you may be tempted to check your email quickly. Social media might be calling out your name. To the degree that your devices are within hand’s reach, you may find sitting still difficult.
  • Lack of transitions: most of use need time to “ease into” prayer. Don’t assume that, just because you are trying to sit still, that it will come easily. In our solutions list (see below), I’ll help you with this.
  • Fear: prayer involves vulnerability. When you go to sit still and have your quiet time with the Lord, you’re entering uncharted territory. God may speak to you. You may have a thought that is unformed. An inspiration may come to your heart. For most of us, this is scary.

With the causes of our discomfort with sitting still in hand, now we can turn to seven simple solutions (or ways) that will help you to sit still. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but purely practical. I personally use these “tricks” and believe me, they work!

The Solutions

  1. Begin with a phrase. A transition phrase, even if said only in your head, can be a useful “nudge” into sitting still. Using the same phrase can trigger your brain and heart that you are entering into quiet time. I like to use the ancient formula, “O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.”
  2. Notice your breathing. Just taking notice of your breath will let you know if you are anxious or calm. Pay attention to your body and begin to breath slowly and with intention.
  3. Use a countdown. If sitting still is very (read, VERY) difficult for you, you may try to simply close your eyes and count down from ten to one. This has nothing to do with hypnosis and everything to do with calming your busy mind. There’s something about an old-fashioned countdown that contributes to a peaceful mind.
  4. Set aside your devices. As Jesus says in Matthew 18:8, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.” Could the modern day “hand” be your iPhone? I’m not advocating for you to throw away an $800 device. I am saying that your smartphone is probably too tempting and should be set aside while you pray.
  5. Use a journal. A journal is a powerful tool when it comes to sitting still. It helps get things out of your head. It maps progress. It lets you know that you are thinking through issues. It can be a way to write out your prayers.
  6. Fix your eyes. Some of us benefit from a visual focal point when we pray. This may be a crucifix on the wall or an icon on a table in front of you. You might have a Rosary in your hands that you can look at. If you are a “visual prayer”, try to increase your ability to sit still with a focal point for your eyes.
  7. Close your eyes. This may seem counter to #6 but there are just times when you need to close your eyes. I find this particularly true when I’m trying to pray in church or at a public event (i.e. a conference). Closing your eyes is an act of surrender to God, letting Him bring you deeper into intimacy and stillness.

For a bonus strategy, consider using your Bible as a tool for helping you to still still. A short passage can provide context for your quiet time. If you’re familiar with Lectio Divina, this technique can work quite well, making sense of a passage and integrating it into your prayer. It’s always a good idea to have a Bible close by when you are trying to sit still. 

You Can Do This

Sitting still isn’t easy. With some practice however, it is within reach. God desires a rich and fulfilling prayer life for each of us. By sitting still, you’re giving God the space he needs to transform your life and build confidence in your heart. You can do this. God can do this in you.

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What Contributes to a Good Quiet Time?
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You sit down to pray and your mind is racing a thousand miles a minute. A sound bothers you. Your stomach rumbles. What was going to be a nice time of prayer is quickly slipping away...

Can you relate?

We’ve talked a lot about the components of a morning quiet time. There are tried and true “parts” to this ancient practice.

What we might take for granted, especially when it comes to morning prayer, are the other factors that can impact a morning quiet time.

I think of the story from St. Therese of Lisieux. During prayers in the chapel, another sister would make a sort of clacking noise which Therese found quite distracting. While at first an annoyance, she found a way to turn the sister’s peculiarities into something pleasant. Over time, she would look forward to the other sister’s noise.

By the way, I had a college roommate who snored like you can’t imagine. A train (snoring) literally came through our room each night! Unlike Therese, I didn’t have the virtue to see his snoring as a gift.

Back to the topic at hand- which factors contribute to your morning quiet time?

Here are four that stand out for me:

1. Sound. What’s going on around you? Are you alone? Is anyone else nearby? How about environmental sounds like birds outside or a train passing by... take note of these things.

2. How you are feeling physically? Are you hungry or tired? Does anything pain you? How is your posture? Take note of these things.

3. Temperature. Are you cold? Hot? Do you need to take off your jacket? Is your belt too tight? Take note of these things.

4. Desire. As you enter into prayer, are you feeling as if you want to pray? Does it feel routine today? Are you happy about this experience? Take note of these things.

We could add probably a dozen other things that impact your daily quiet time. The key is to take note of things, both inside you and outside of you. Then, as with all things, offer the moment and your heart up to the Lord. He will take care of the rest.

10 Strategies for Minimizing Distractions at Church
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There’s a lot going on at church and it can be distracting.  I imagine that for priests, it takes all of the charity in them to have patience with those that come to church.


Think about it,

•  People arrive late

•  Phones go off

•  No one sits in the front rows

•  People read the bulletin during Mass

•  People are chewing gum

•  And the list goes on and on!


Notice that I didn’t add crying babies to the list- at least they have a good excuse for not paying attention to what’s happening while church is “in session”.  The rest of us?  Not so much.


From a prayer perspective, church is hard.  We feel like we should be able to pray while we are at Mass.  We probably want to pray but there are just so many distractions.  It’s also hard to simply leave our busy lives at the door and then flip the switch into prayer mode.


As you can imagine, I do have some recommendations for how you can make your next visit to church more prayerful.


1.  Leave your phone in the car. Unless it’s the dead of winter (or summer) and you deliver babies for a living, you can probably get away with leaving your phone in the car. 

2.  Check yourself before walking in the door.  Take a breath.  Remember that your life is about to take on new meaning.  Pause.

3.  Make a profound sign of the cross.  Don’t rush through this ancient practice of the church.  Make a slow sign of the cross.

4.  Give yourself permission to close your eyes.  Not while you’re walking! Rather, when you are kneeling or sitting in prayer, give yourself permission to listen, to pray and to be focused with your eyes closed.

5.  Choose a spot that will minimize distractions. This will, of course, depend on your church.  One church I visit has a terrible spot right by the air conditioning floor vents while another is too close to the choir.  Find a spot that works for you.

6.  At the sign of peace, make someone’s day with a smile.  Don’t rush through this moment... make a brief connection through your joyful smile.

7.  Listen with eagerness to the readings.  Really enter into this moment and use the books in the pew if that is helpful.

8.  As you are walking up for communion, develop a prayer mantra.  Ask God to make you a better person.  Tell Him how you feel about your relationship with Him.

9.  After communion, enter into this moment.  Close your eyes and just be with the Lord.  This is sacred time.

10.  10 minutes after Mass, try to remember that you’ve just received the Lord in communion.  I often forget that I’m supposed to live, in faith, as a changed man after I have received communion.  Be mindful of this. Speak with charity.  Express gratitude. Be patient with yourself and others. 


What strategy would you add to this list? How do you minimize distractions at church?

prayer, Noise, FaithMike StPierre
5 Steps To Praying More in 2018
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 So you want to pray more in 2018?

 

Just like those that want to exercise more or save more money in the New Year, there are a lot of us who also want to be more prayerful.  The catch, and there’s always a catch, is that it’s easier said than done.

 

A desire needs a bit more to become a reality.

 

Still, a seed of desire is a good starting point to a more prayerful “you” in 2018.  St. Therese calls prayer a “surge of the heart”- that sure sounds like desire-language to me!  If you have a desire to pray more, that’s fantastic so let’s explore it further.

 

Once you have the inclination to be more prayerful, what do you do about it?  I suggest a couple of things to get you going:

 

  1. Pick an app.  As you can see from my Productivity Awards list, I recommend either Magnificat or Give Us This Day. If you’d prefer a free option, go with Laudate.
  2. Decide on a time of day. For most of us, mornings are the best time of day to pray.  There’s just less resistance in the morning and it also feels great to start your day with some personal time with God.
  3. Decide on your location.  This isn’t a fancy step but still an important one.  Will you pray at the kitchen table or in a chapel at church?  Will you find a comfortable chair in your living room that looks out on your backyard?  Where in your life can you find a quiet spot to be with God every day at a particular time?  For me, it’s typically in a chair in my living room, listening to the birds begin their day just outside.
  4. Decide on your ritual or practice.  You know when you go to church and the service (or Mass for us Catholics!) begins the same way every single week?  Those repeated signs trigger your mind and heart into a different point of focus, i.e. “this is prayer time”.  You can do this at home by lighting a candle, making the sign of the cross or saying the same thing each time you start.  I like to begin with “O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me” which I’ve borrowed from the Liturgy of the Hours. Find what works for you and then use it each and every time you pray.
  5. Revisit your journal.  A journal is a great place to “ponder” things.  Writing makes you more reflective, more grateful and can improve your intimacy with God.  Just let it flow- don’t try to impress anyone or be perfect.  The point is to talk to God through your writing (or typing via an app) and “turn over” your heart a few times.

 

These are five simple tips for a more prayerful you in the New Year.  I can’t wait to hear of your success stories!

A New Definition of Silence
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Silence is hard to find.  It’s either the noise in our head, the noise through our technology or the noise via our hectic schedules.

Some would say that silence is actually impossible since the absence of noise might be impossible except for a few remote spots on planet Earth.

If that’s the case, then how might we define silence in a prayerful way?  I describe it the following way, “the intentional and uninterrupted state that you choose in order to be mindful of the presence of God.”

Let’s break it down further:

-intentional: in other words, you choose it.  You take a few moments to be quiet and still.  This can be anywhere and anytime but it’s always deliberate.  Sometimes a quiet space chooses you.  You are going for a hike and the vista nearly arrests you.  It takes your breath away. 

-uninterrupted: in other words, there is focus.  This can be for only a moment but it’s a silence that captures your heart and your mind.  In this way, the silence isn’t forever but for a distinct period of time... and then it ends.  Its ending is either the result of your choice or the noise from outside that breaks the silence.

-mindful of the presence of God: in other words, the silence brings you into deeper awareness of God’s presence.  You become grateful for something- grateful to God.  You gain a new insight- an insight from God.  You process your heart and your thoughts- all so that you can be drawn further into relationship with God.

If silence is found in this way, through an intentional pause from the noise of the world, it can be discovered in ordinary moments.  As you go through your week, where will you choose to find silence and how will God use it to bring you closer to Him?

Noise, prayer, SimplicityMike StPierre