It’s finally time for Part #3 in my little rosary series. In case you missed the first two, here are the links:
Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #2
Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #1
Today, I’ll be talking about–
How to Meditate in the Midst of Chaos
I’m sure all you moms out there know the frustration of trying to do something that requires an ounce of concentration, only to be interrupted about ten seconds through (e.g. a blog post… seriously? Ask me for another snack. And another glass of water. And more music. Please.) For me and the rosary, this is just a daily occurrence– and I don’t foresee that changing until all the kids are in school… which could be forever.
Because I don’t usually manage to have a “silent” or “spare” fifteen minutes in the day, I talked last time about ways to squeeze your prayers into your schedule. One of those ways was to say the rosary while driving or walking– but of course both of these activities require you to maintain some degree of awareness of your surroundings and involve a fair amount of thinking. You can’t really close your eyes to center yourself while driving– other drivers get really judgy when you do that. Even when I do manage to have a few minutes of quiet where I can curl up on the couch and really try to enter into prayer, there’s a level of vigilance that is still operating that prevents me from going as “deep” as I would like to. I’m always ready to play “defense” with the kids around and so mentally, I find it hard to let go. Even after they go to sleep, it can be a challenge to find time to pray because by then, let’s face it: I’m tired.
So before we go on, let’s look at what “meditation” is:
think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
Well, obviously “thinking deeply” is out most of the time– but I have found ways to try and focus my mind that require less “though” and more “mindfulness.” Let me illustrate.
Way #1: Images
I’m a very visual person, so when my thoughts are distracted, it helps me to just have an image in mind for each mystery. For some of them, famous works of art come to mind. Whenever I meditate on “The Visitation,” Mariotto Albertinelli’s rendition is the first thing that comes to mind.
Other mysteries, however, come more from my own imagination as I’ve meditated upon them in the past. “The Annunciation” is a good example of that– the image that I’ve put together is the product of many other powerful renditions of the scene, including some fabulous icons, as well as how I’ve ‘pictured’ it when I’ve heard or read it.
If you’re not a visual person, though, go on to number two.
Way #2: Feelings
When I meditate on the agony in the garden, it’s pretty easy to imagine the sort of emotions the scene would entail. Luke gives us this great description:
In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.– Lk 22:44
I also have to admit that my meditation is greatly colored by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.*
So when I’m having a hard time finding a concrete “image” to focus on, or for those times when even conjuring up an image requires too much thought, I try to at least focus on the feelings of each particular mystery– and rather than merely ‘naming’ them (e.g. joyful), I try to actually feel it. I find this to be of greatest help when I’m having a bad day. Either I bust out the Sorrowful Mysteries and end up feeling better through catharsis, or I focus on the Joyful or the Glorious Mysteries and my day seems a little better.
What’s that you say? Images and feelings aren’t really your thing? Try this!
Way #3: Focusing on Body Parts
What? That’s weird.
Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t think of a better way to say that. Let me just dive right in to an example:
When I’m walking around the city, my thoughts tend to wander and I’m always preoccupied with making sure my stroller doesn’t get run over by bikes, angry runners or oblivious college students (amazingly, the bikes are the only ones I actually haven’t had problems with). So rather than focusing on images or feelings, sometimes I find it helpful to associate a mystery with a part of the body. This seems to be easiest with the Sorrowful Mysteries. Here’s how I pair them:
- The Agony in the Garden= knees
- The Scourging at the Pillar= back
- The Crowning with Thorns= head
- Jesus Carries His Cross= shoulders
- Jesus is Crucified= hands and feet
As I pray each decade, I shift my awareness to each of those body parts. I think about how Jesus’ knees must have felt, kneeling in the dirt or even on rocks, how they must have felt weak and tired. Sometimes my knees start to feel that a little bit. I become aware of soreness or tiredness in my own body and I offer that up. But usually I contrast this with how my own knees are feeling, which is mostly fine– and as I meditate on that decade, I thank God for my own lack of pain in that moment. I realize that maybe all those aches and pains I complain about really aren’t that big of a deal and I feel gratitude for the health and mobility God has given me. When I reach the end of the decade, I shift my focus and begin again.
Way #4: Why am I praying this with Mary?
When I first started praying the rosary, I was all excited about meditating– but then I realized I had no clue what some of these mysteries were doing in the rosary. Obviously the Sorrowful Mysteries are great because they make us think of Christ’s Passion and Death. Christians should totally meditate on that. Likewise the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Resurrection– key points in Jesus’ life. But the Finding in the Temple? What on earth is that about?
I have to admit that I was stuck. My prayer went something like this:
Dear God, I have no idea what you want me to think about here. Jesus was super smart and way beyond his years in wisdom. I can’t do much with that. Help. Love, Christina.
Then I started to approach meditation not from a mere “what does the Bible say about this” standpoint, but from Mary’s point of view. We are, after all, asking her to pray with us and for us when we say the rosary– so why not try to glean some insight from her?
Then it dawned on me:
When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’– Lk 2:43-48
Mary was anxious for THREE DAYS because she thought she had lost her son. I imagined the time I thought I lost Sofie in a clothing store, only to find her thirty seconds later in a fitting room giving herself kisses in the mirror. I was terrified. In those thirty seconds I imagined every possible bad thing that could have happened to my precious girl. Maybe someone took her! Maybe she’s hurt! Maybe she’s dead! And here we have the key to this sorrowful mother’s heart: for three days, she thought her son might be dead.
When I put myself in Mary’s place, all of a sudden I realized the heart-wrenching foreshadowing of emotion that must have passed through her. Did she remember those three days when she stood at the foot of the cross? Was her grief compounded because of this earlier experience? Or perhaps… did Mary’s heart contain the hope that even after she put her son in the tomb, God would again deliver him to her on the third day?
So, whenever I have problems figuring out something to meditate on, I always ask: What might Mary have felt?
Sometimes I find that despite the obvious differences, she and I have much in common. And it helps me to think about that.
Way #5: Offering it up
And then there are some days you are so arid, so frazzled and so frustrated by everything that is going on and everything you have to do and there’s no way to quiet your house, car or brain and you just have to offer it up.
I can’t tell you how many times I have thrown my head back and squeezed my eyes shut tight, gripping my rosary beads as hard as I can saying:
Dear God, I just don’t have it in me today. You’re gonna have to handle the graces on this one because I’ve got nothing. So just take my struggles and please acknowledge that I’m going to power through this and I will offer it up. K, thanks.
So, there you have it! Hope some of these help. Even as I wrote them I thought: That sounded way more profound than I usually feel it is in the moment. So take everything with a grain (or twelve-hundred) of salt. Now I’d love to hear from you!
How do you manage to quiet yourself– even if for a moment– to say any prayers?
Do you have any special techniques for saying the rosary of your own? I’d *love* to hear about them.
Are there any mysteries you have problems “figuring out”? How do you work around that?
*Go ahead, Judgy McJudgerson. Tell me how bad that movie is and how it’s not Catholic and blah blah blah. It’s a powerful song and if it leads me to pathos for Our Lord, then I don’t know why you complain. Also, I saw him perform the role back in 2008. He was totally old and it was weird– but he totally rocked it.