The Rosary is a wonderful form of prayer in the Catholic tradition. It gives us a chance to draw close to God in the companionship of Mary the Mother of God. And like other prayers and in the many ways we connect with God, it's not always easy! Annabel sent us an email and asked us a question that I know I've tangled with too! Annabel writes:
How do I successfully pray the Rosary without losing concentration?
One of the most important things to know, Annabel, is that losing concentration isn't bad or wrong! We can certainly develop the habit of more focused concentration but invariably we all run into the experience of being distracted.
LOOK, A SQUIRREL!!
Where was I? Oh yes, being distracted when praying the Rosary!
Here are some steps to pray the Rosary (or engage in any kind of prayer) without losing concentration:
- Don't freak out.
Whenever we engage in an activity such as prayer, our mind can wander, something might catch our attention like a squirrel running by, or our stomach growling, or the phone ringing, or well, just about anything! It's normal and doesn't mean that you are doing prayer "wrong".
- Start small.
Prayers such as the Rosary can be as short or long as we need them to be. Sometimes it can be that we aren't used to prolonged periods of time in prayer (prolonged can mean 1 hour for some and 3 minutes for others -- that's okay!). You might experiement with trying a shorter form of the Rosary or other prayer. Maybe start with just one decade of the Rosary and then gradually increase the decades, and then Mysteries, as you are able to feel more present in the prayer.
- Salute the distraction.
When I get distracted while praying, I sometimes focus so much on banishing that distraction from my mind that I end up focusing on that instead of prayer! A helpful technique is to think of that distraction as coming into our consciousness and then moving along just as quickly. Salute the distraction -- "Yep, I see that you are here. Greetings, now keep moving along while I go back to prayer." This prevents me from shifting my focus to banishing the distraction to just letting it hang out on the outer edges of my consciousness. Soon enough it's gone!
- Make it your own.
Making just a few shifts in our prayer can sometimes refresh our approach so that we are more present to God while praying. For praying the Rosary, for example, you can try:
- praying out loud or singing
- going very slowly, allowing time for you to let the words and images marinate in you
- learning more about the prayer (I find that when I have a good context for understanding, I feel freer to focus!)
- using a different translation of the Scriptures or prayers
- being in the presence of an icon or other sacred image
- God likes squirrels.
The point of all prayers, even ones that follow a "formula" like the Rosary, is to listen to and talk with God. It can be surprising to think that God is with us in the distractions as well -- but hey, God is always with us! Remember that next time a squirrel runs by -- let God be with you in that. I also find it very helpful just to be upfront with God (as if God doesn't already know what's happening!). I say, "Okay God, here comes that squirrel again. I'm so sorry and I am trying hard to be present to you. Thanks for being with me no matter what. I'm open to however you want to be with me -- and if you've got some tips to help me be more present to you, I'm glad for them!"
Know of my own prayers for you, Annabel and others who are reading this! God is good and is just so delighted that you are taking time to be present -- trust that and enter wholly into God's presence!
For those who may not be familiar with the Rosary, I encourage you to read the U.S. Catholic Bishops' guide How to Pray the Rosary. The Rosary is a prayer centered around the life of Jesus the Christ, and we enter into this prayer through the 4 mysteries of the Rosary: the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries.
Image: Sister Ruth and the Children with a Squirrel in a 1942 Catholic School Reader via @PatricksMercy on Flickr