Dealing With Inner Noise During Prayer

“It felt like monkeys jumping from branches to branches. More than one monkey.” The person was talking about the experience of preparing to pray and meditate. This is common and something we need to expect and learn to stay calm about, take action and carry on. 


Our mind is like a river carrying floating dry leaves across our mind in an endless stream. Many of these thoughts are insignificant and lightweight and could be ignored with a mere switch off in our soul. They merely come and disappear as quickly as the stream of water passing by. 

The difficulty is when these thoughts, ideas, problems, burdens, emotions, experiences swirl around. It could be your mind trying to solve a problem, flirting with a new idea, remembering something that needed to be done, someone to call, feeling a mood or dominant emotion that suddenly surfaces onto consciousness, or worries and concerns that weigh on you, or a difficult decision to make. They keep pestering. They refuse to leave. Like a float you push underwater, they pop up again and again. If we do not do something with them we might end up totally focused on these matters, feeling spent at the end of all the thinking, and feeling drawn away from God’s life-giving presence. 


There are two methods for handling this. One is to make a record of them in a journal, notebook or phone. Record them with the intention of getting back to them later after you have given yourself to meditation and prayer. Giving them a place of existence, a number in the queue, will placate them, or rather re-assure yourself that these matters will be taken up and will not be forgotten. It gives you peace of mind since they have been set apart safely to be looked at later. This is a prayer aid that will help you focus on meditation of God’s word and prayer first. When you later come back after prayer, to the list to discuss them with the Lord, you may find that the meditation you had was timely in giving you a timely word or godly perspective, and the prayer time had strengthened your faith to view the list differently.

A second way is to pray through and discuss with the Lord all the items you have recorded before going into your meditation of the word and prayer. This is particularly good when the first method was futile as you kept thinking about the problem or your swirling emotions and desire refused to be calmed. Let these problems, burdens, emotions and desires be the subject of your conversation and discussion with the Lord. As you talk to the Lord as a friend speaks to a friend, you will find that it is not mere monologue but an exchange is going on. Thoughts and inspiration and ideas and perspectives may dawn on you in prayer. New desires and self-control may overtake your anxious, angry and greedy soul. You may find that this alone had taken all the time you had allotted and there is no time for meditation on his word. It does not matter. You have prayed. You have had communion with the Lord.

I am sure there are other useful methods readers have tried. I am sure if you take some time to share what worked for you, it would be of help to other pray-ers too. The comment button is below the title of this blogpost.

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Walking 19km with “broken bones”

The camino led us through shop streets and apartments.  People have yet awakened. We began our walk at 7.30am in silence after a meditation on scriptures that evokes awareness of sins, but from God’s eyes of love.

Cool fresh air and sunny skies

With Kae and Corina

Through many former train tunnels

We walked past factories, past offices, markets, onto a railway track converted to new uses. Some locals cycled past, some jogged and most were brisk walking. We were immersed in forests and meadows, the tunnels and factories and farms, the bridges and streams, the darkness and sunshine, the birdsong and hum of machines. These comprised the sanctuary in which we pondered over our life’s journey, over scriptures and what we have been moved by thus far as we walked. And all this in silence and peace.

The route of Camino Ignaciano is identified by orange markings

I was pondering over a scripture from Psalms 51, “let the bones you have crushed dance”. My bones have been crushed on the altar of ministry and his promise to me  is a redemptive dance and rejoicing, something I have experienced, and still do today, and will in future. He never fails.

It ended up being a 5 hours walk covering 19km, before the bus picked us up and brought us to a charming, rustic, beautiful,  family farm home converted into a hotel catering to pilgrims. Gorgeous rooms, dining areas, great food and family hospitality.

Lovely charming rustic hotel that was once a family farmhouse

Beautiful modern but elegant church

Magnificent Diocesan shrine of Aranzazu

Eucharist in side chapel

The evening ended with eucharist, a siesta, dinner and a session titled, “Loved Sinner” to prepare us for the next day’s walk.

We retired totally spent.

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Keeping quiet

A quiet evening at the Jurong Lake promenade
A quiet evening at the Jurong Lake promenade

I had been preparing the messages and workshops for a Methodist church retreat in June. It is a preached retreat to introduce fervent evangelicals to a few spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. The topics include Slowing down, Silence, The six stages of the life of faith, Journey through he wall, The review of the day (examen), Devotional reading (lectio divina). I was preparing the talks, the Powerpoint and collecting material. Then I chanced upon this beautiful poem in Chee Soo Lian’s Facebook entry. As is often the case, the Lord has his way of bringing suitable materials to help me teach. This is a poem by Pablo Neruda, Nobel prize winning poet and writer. In one of the sessions in the preached retreat I will lead the people into a great silence or grand silence –  a lengthy period of keeping quiet usually practised in the monastery. Imagine young people doing this! I will use this poem as a summons to launch the grand silence.

by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

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Slow down, man

I wish there was a mad rush to slow downSingaporeans walk faster than any other people in the world, this data from a study of 32 cities of the world done in 2007. Next in rank is Copenhagen, Madrid, and Guangzhou. Compared to a similar study done in the 1990s, Singaporeans speed increased by 30%. This reflects the hurry and pressure of the day. It points to a physical and social health that needs to be monitored with concern. Christians are not exempted from this. We live in a social system that traps us with patterns of behaviour that is difficult for us to extricate from.

As Christians we can make a difference. We have Christ who dwells in us who is greater than the world outside. We can start by realizing our hurrying does not achieve the purposes of God. Jesus was busy but was never hurried. He lived in another realm called shalom. He abided in an awareness of God and the divine activity around him.

We can imitate Jesus and learn to press the pause button in our daily life: a pause pregnant with silence and a fresh awareness of God’s presence.  Be still and silent for two or more minutes at some points in the day. Breathe deeply and slowly and be aware of His loving presence. Imagine Christ smiling before you. Slow down to the rhythms of God’s grace.

Do this as a fun experiment for a start and see if it heals you of the pandemic called hurry.

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