What follows are some reflections about one of the most difficult expressions of contemplative prayer, one that I never get rid of, one that is with me as long as I traverse the halls of silence and solitude in search of God wherever I may encounter Him today.
Focus is one of those human traits that, like the meaning of love, we humans don’t do automatically. When I sit in Eucharist Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, I am always faced with the feeling that I should be somewhere else, or that this is not a productive use of my time. In this most recent Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), I actually took a conscious look at my focus process and came up with some interesting observations.
In the first few minutes, I carry with me the flurry of what the world says is important. For example, I have a meeting scheduled in two hour, I am due for lunch at home and my wife wants to know what I want to eat, or in the chapel at Good Shepherd, Tallahassee, Florida, it seems stuffy and too hot. My mind conjers up any number of flashing choices for me to make. I call this my detoxification period (from one to five minutes), where I try to focus on Christ. I try to overcome this alarming flashes of temptation to do something meaningful, After all, who wants to sit in a darkened chapel with no one there, only a burning votive candle beside the tabernacle, and it smelling a bit stuffy. There are many, many reasons my senses tell me to go, but only one good reason to stay…love.
At this stage of my Lectio Divina, I have tried to Have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) by beginning to think of my Lectio statement, the only one I have had each day since 1962. I am beginning to be aware of where I am and who is there with me. I try to move from self to God by thinking about God. St. Benedict, in his Chapter 4 of the Rule tells me not to overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good.
This happens to me every single time I do Lectio Divina, a veritable gauntlet of thoughts and mental jousting with Satan or his demons. Struggling to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) is not fun and, I will admit, I am not always successful at my focus, as if I have gone through the anxiety of trying and failing and trying and failing and then some success. In reading the book, The Little Prince, by Saint Exupery, the fox is trying to tell the Little Prince how to tame the rose. In this way, the rose will not be frightened. Listen to the Youtube account of one of my favorite analogies on focus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkiZuu79N_I The fox, in the story goes on to say that it is the time to take to tame your rose that makes it valuable. The moral of the story for me is the saying, “It is only with the heart that ones sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Lectio Divina is trying to see what is invisible, and what is essential to our Lay Cistercian spirituality. It is the time I spend trying to calm down my flesh so that I can enter into stillness by focusing on silence and solitude, which is also part of prayer.
Next time you read about the passion and death of Christ, think of the temptation in the Garden of Gethsemani as one of losing focus of what the mission was. Christ overcame his temptation to abandon the humilitation and pain of the cross by telling the Father that his will be done, not that of Christ. What a model to follow when we do Lectio Divina. Think of you sitting on a park bench in the dead of winter and waiting for Christ to come by. It is the time you spend waiting that make your prayer pleasing to the Father, through, with, and in Christ.
Focus is an act of the will to keep Christ centered in your heart for as long as possible. If you want to enter that place where no one wants to look, then you must anticipate the effects of Original Sin. Struggle is, in itself, a way to increase the capacity of God within us. Amen and Amen.