On Tuesday afternoon I visited the chapel of our Christchurch Carmelite sisters where Bishop Barry Jones was lying in state. The chapel was peaceful, and for some minutes another priest of the diocese and myself prayed alone, with the sisters, before other groups including some Sisters of Mercy and mothers with young children arrived.
I began by trying to pray consciously and intentionally for Bishop Barry. It seemed that the setting for prayer was ideal: the chapel was beautiful and peaceful, the sisters were at prayer behind their grill just to the left of the sanctuary, and the body of our wise and holy bishop lay before the altar.
But despite all of these faith-filled factors, I found it impossible to focus on my task of prayer. My mind was all over the place, and I could not even sit still. I thought about the many significant and inspiring moments I have shared with Bishop Barry, especially the privileged Chathams days, and the twice-yearly meetings of the Anglican – Catholic dialogue, and numerous other encounters. I remembered the many ways he by his words and actions have helped me to a greater maturity of faith.
And then I was thinking about other funerals, especially those of my own parents, and then my mind was off – distracted and day-dreaming. I thought a Rosary might help, but that seemed to make matters worse and after two or three Hail Mary’s I had unconsciously slipped into grace before meals…
I remembered reading a Buddhist monk who had written about the “monkey mind” which cannot be settled and flits from one thought to the next like a hyperactive chimpanzee swinging from one branch to the next in a forest. I knew exactly what he meant.
I have encouraged parishioners in the Hurunui to carry the Lenten Magnificat daily prayer booklet with them and to take a few moments each day to pray the given reflection for the day. I had my copy in my back pocket so took it out and turned to Tuesday’s reflection. The title seemed hopeful: Praying the Perfect Prayer, and I began to read.
The little reflection helped me a lot – not to control my mind and get focussed, but to know that “God already knows what we need even before we’ve begun the verbal barrage!” Then an example was added…”maybe, like the holy man from Assisi, who walked ten miles one day and managed a single Our Father along the way, we might muse on those few words that Jesus strung together when he invented in [the Our Father].”
Within a few moments I knew again that the simple fact I was taking time to be still and silent before Jesus, in prayer for the happy repose of the soul of Bishop Barry, was the best prayer I could pray. Even my “monkey mind” when placed before the Lord became a whole-hearted prayer.