Merton: Prayer as Distraction

Merton: Prayer as Distraction

“If my prayer is centered in myself, if it seeks only an enrichment of my own self, my prayer will be my greatest potential distraction. Full of my own curiosity, I have eaten of the tree of Knowledge and torn myself away from myself and God. I am left rich and alone and nothing can assuage my hunger: everything I touch turns into a distraction.” —Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999).


What a great gift from Merton to remind us of what may be the problem if our prayer life is no longer meaningful and rich, if we seem to lose the connection. Our first question should be, “Is my prayer life centered around myself?” Unfortunately, it is rare that we can actually see that in ourselves. It often takes talking to someone else about their stale prayers and seeing that loneliness and isolation and self-centeredness in them. Then the “Aha!” moment comes internally. “The same is also true for me!” We constantly learn from each other, consciously or unconsciously.

We also so often realize our egocentricity in community as we see it and abhor it in others—and then by Grace realize it is also in ourselves. The change for ourselves, however, so often comes as we withdraw from community in silence, contemplation, meditation, or centering prayer—so many avenues for change—to again become aware of that connection to God that was always there. Instead of trying to change the other, we see the gold in the difficulty and recognize the call to change ourselves, which paradoxically calls us to place our center on love of God and others instead of only on ourselves.