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Difficulties of the Beginner

    For those of us who have recently begun the practice of religious exercises, or mental prayer (as distinguished from vocal or traditional petitionary prayer) the difficulties seem bewilderingly various. Especially is this so, if the early attempts to meditate have been lightened by the insight or joy which often strengthens the beginner. These difficulties can be placed perhaps in two groups--difficulties arising from outer circumstance, and those springing from one's inner attitude.

    Many simple physical adjustments must be made:--the body taught to be relaxed, the hour for prayer chosen wisely so that one is best able to concentrate, the amount and kind of food one eats much be strictly chosen, not on the old basis of one's likes, but on the new one of bodily efficiency. One must learn to relax toward the irrelevant noises which seem to fill one's ears, rather than resist them, which serves only to make them roar the louder. The exciting activities and demands of the body, now noticed in the unaccustomed quiet, are to be forgotten. The actual schedule of the day may have to be drastically rearranged to make way for this effort, for it is important to have a margin of time on either side of the hour for meditation to forestall the feeling of breathless self-importance we carry into much of our daily activity. For some people it is a problem to find a solitary, if not a quiet place, where one can be alone or with friends who are meditating too. These adjustments can be grouped together as making up some of the difficulties of outer circumstance or environment.

    Harder to banish are the obstacles or difficulties in meditation which spring from one's inner life. Disheartenment over "the years that went in empty sacrifice to mortal things" fills the mind with gloom, amounting almost to despair. Everyone, it seems, goes through this experience. Sometimes, too, it becomes an excuse for not working harder. Suddenly it is clear, "I'm just making this a sideline, all my real interests are out on the counter. Perhaps I really don't want this enough to go on with the discipline." And when this happens one has stumbled on the very stubborn fact of one's own sloth. It is a natural reaction, particularly at those times when the mind seems full of sand, both heavy and dry, or when the mind swarms like a freshly stirred ant hill with thought of everything else but the Reality about which one desires to think.

    At other times, over-confidence, the conviction one really belongs among those who may be gifted in prayer, keeps one from making progress. To begin to expect special manifestations of God's grace, to anticipate experiences which one has read about but which belong to a stage far beyond one's own development, is fatal to the real spirit of meditation. If the experts agree on one essential quality of mind and heart, in this work of praticing the Presence of God in prayer, that essential is humility. For, say they all, the real work of prayer is done by God,--our part is to empty the heart of those things which keep Him out. Whatever then comes, if one has been sincere and humbly eager to be fit for His indwelling, will be accepted tranquilly as a necessary part of the process which is to lead us out of our narrow selves into the wideness of God's infinite charity.

    So then we learn to pray, not that one's prayer be made easier, but that one's desire for Him be made deeper, not that one can have the gifts one has not earned, but rather, the power to serve Him through each day in every tiny act. We learn that everything we do is insignificant if it points toward ourselves, but strangely significant if it points toward God. With humility and desire and faith in God as infinite and eternal and unchanging in His love and understanding for all his creatures, the difficulties of meditation are seen as part of one's growth. We must all come to terms with Holiness, soon or late. It is for us to decide when.

    Elizabeth Hunter, 1893-1972. American

    The Choice is Always Ours