Jones: Are we too wired to be able to focus on God?

June 13, 2017

Many of us today are coming and going, shuttling ourselves and our children from one event to another while focusing our eyes on electronic devices. While technology has made communication, traveling and communicating faster and easier, do we leave enough quiet time for God?

The experts now say that, because of our constant use of these devices, we are re-wiring our brains. In the past, it was believed that our brains were hardwired in the womb, but current research claims that our brains are always changing, even into adulthood. What this means is that our brains are making constant adjustments over the course of our lives based on our everyday actions and experiences.

So what does this have to do with our spirituality and how we relate to God? If you keep up with trending news, you have read that “multi-tasking” is not the gift we first thought it was. Additionally, science has determined that the habit of constantly switching from one thing to another on our devices trains our brains to seek constant stimulation, which makes it hard for us to spend focused time connecting with God.

Moreover, Tricia McCary Rhode, Ph.D., states in her book “The Wired Soul” that “the ways we skim when we are on the Internet trains our brains for only shallow thinking...” thus making it difficult to meditate on a deep level about the truths presented to us by Christ.

So what are we to do? We must intentionally and consciously take time for God through Scripture and prayer. In other words, retrain our brains. Mother Church has equipped us with various vehicles in which to do this, such as Lectio Divina, meditation and contemplation to name a few. The trick is to slow down and take time. In our fast-paced lives that can be a challenge. We have to be intentional in taking time for God.

“Lectio Divina is the reflective reading of Scripture leading to meditation on specific passages,” according to the Catechetical Framework for Lifelong Faith Formation. Perhaps start slowly just once a week using the Sunday readings in preparation for the Sunday Liturgy. Read quietly and slowly the passage. Read the passage again but this time aloud so that you hear the words. Find a word or phrase that speaks to you. Whatever you do, don’t rush through it. Praying in cooperation with the Holy Spirit takes time.

Next, meditate and ponder on that word or phrase. What is your choice saying to you? Wait for your answer; don’t force it; let it come to you in God’s time. Once you have an answer, pray. Ask God what He wants you to do. This is a chance to encounter God in an honest, sincere and personal way.

“Meditation mobilizes all human faculties and engages thought, imagination, emotion and desire” (CFLFF). Typically, you want to choose a Scripture passage, sit down with it asking the Holy Spirit to guide you through your prayer time and actively reflect on the passage. You may choose to mentally place yourself in the Scripture passage. How do you feel? What is your reaction to what is taking place? What is that passage saying to you? Perhaps you might even keep a journal with your thoughts.

“Contemplative prayer is the simplest and yet the deepest expression of the mystery of prayer. Contemplation is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus who leads one to the Father.” (CFLFF) Whereas in meditative prayer we actively use our brains to seek understanding of God’s revelation of truth and what His will is for us, contemplative is a form of wordless prayer, an emptying out of ourselves. Although not easy, five minutes of contemplative prayer goes a long way.

For most of us, the act of emptying our thoughts takes time and practice. The process is simple: you sit quietly with your eyes closed, breathing deeply. Choose a centering word such as “Maranatha” or phrase such as the Jesus Prayer (Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner). Repeat your word or phrase over and over. Your thoughts may tend to wander. If this happens, use the recitation of your chosen word of praise to bring you back. Time yourself, begin with just five minutes. As you improve, you can lengthen the time.

With the summer months approaching, take a vacation from electronic devices. Maybe just begin with an hour or two. Practice your preferred method of prayer to build your relationship with God. All the while retraining your brain and deepening your spiritual life. 

Deborah Jones is an associate director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.