Blog Post

Mind-Blanking and Mental Prayer are Not Synonymous!

KM writes: "I have tried to teach my children, the prayer of silence, where I ask them to sit and close their eyes and just to focus on God and to try not to think of anything else. Is that O.K? I thought that was what contemplation was, but sometimes it’s difficult to figure out. I hope that is not the Catholic equivalent of mind-blanking."

What you are teaching your children is mental prayer, which is not the Catholic equivalent of mind-blanking. Mind-blanking means exactly that, blanking the mind of all thought, even thoughts of God.

Mental prayer, on the other hand, is putting aside all structured prayer and having a simple, heart-to-heart talk with God. You can meditate on a favorite verse of Scripture or imagine yourself with Jesus in one of the many Gospel scenes. Another method is to simply imagine yourself being with Him and pour out your troubles. He responds in a variety of ways, from inspiring a peaceful quiet in the heart, in a word or image that has meaning to us, or to an inspiration or prompting of some kind. Spiritual masters have long counseled the faithful that 30 minutes a day of this kind of prayer can do more for one's spiritual life than any other form of prayer.

Mind-blanking is the exact opposite of this. Although proponents of this type of prayer, aka Transcendental Meditation and its spawn, Centering Prayer, say this type of prayer is a gateway to contemplation, it's actually an impediment to authentic contemplation. Particularly in the case of infused contemplation, which God alone initiates, we must be willing to relinquish control over what happens to us in prayer in order to be receptive to this gift. The act of turning away every thought and inspiration is an exercise that requires control which  disables our ability to be truly receptive to God in prayer. He may be calling us to higher forms of contemplation but instead of responding to these calls, we're pushing them away.

Mental prayer, if practiced correctly, can be a great way to prepare oneself for more contemplative forms of prayer. As St. Teresa of Avila, the great mystical Doctor of the Church, advises, mental prayer should not be "a torrent of words, much less a strained prepared speech, but rather a relaxed conversation with moments of silence as there must be between friends."

There is no surer way to develop a true personal relationship with Jesus Christ than through this type of prayer.

As simple as it is, however,  many people have trouble with mental prayer because the mind seems more apt to wander in this type of prayer. All of the spiritual masters, including St. Teresa, teach us that distractions are a part of life and we shouldn't be upset with them. When we get distracted, we simply drop the distraction and return to our prayer.

In the book Soul of the  Apostolate, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO writes: "We need to be thoroughly convinced of the fact that all God asks of us, in this conversation, is good will. A soul pestered by distractions, who patiently comes back each day, like a good child, to talk with God, is making first-rate mental prayer. God supplies all our deficiencies."

For those of you who want to give mental prayer a try, Father Chautard recommends that a person start out slowly, with five or 10 minutes of mental prayer daily, gradually working their way up to 30 minutes a day.

If you stick to it, it could pay off because mental prayer is the front-runner for contemplation, which is an even simpler "gaze of faith" (Catechism No. 2715) in which one is content to simply "be" in God's presence.

KM, teaching your children mental prayer is a great way to help them get to know Jesus on a personal basis and will launch them on the way to a vibrant and fulfilling spiritual life. Kudos to you!

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