Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.”— Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation
This quote from Thomas Merton is so true that it made me laugh out loud. One of my prayer practices is Centering Prayer, which is essentially sitting quietly with eyes closed, opening yourself up to God’s presence, and letting go of any thoughts that arise. There are prayer sessions when I’ve had enough thoughts arise to fill an entire lifetime, when only 20 minutes have passed. But rather than despair at my darting mind, I can only be amused at the range of glittery things my mind fixates on with so much determination. Even (or maybe especially) when I intend to be praying. I’ll often be far down a trail of thought before I realize that I’m now planning next week’s lunches, wondering what the traffic will be like, or worrying about when it’s going to rain.
Some of the sparkly things my mind picks up are innocuous. Like a quick shower of glitter brushed off a Christmas ornament, these thoughts capture my attention for a bit, then are gone. Once aware of them, I can easily put aside thoughts of my grocery list, traffic, and the weather.
But other thoughts that glitter turn into shiny, sharp metal shards. Once in my mind, they settle into a dark corner, waiting for my attention to brush up against them. And inevitably, my thoughts follow a well-worn path to those hidden corners. Knowing these places will leave me mentally bruised or bleeding doesn’t seem enough to keep me away. These corners have labels like “not good enough,” and they are full of memories of the times I’ve been rejected, laughed at, or simply not noticed.
The “nest” of my mind has accumulated many of these shiny, dark shards over the years. And as I get older, I’ve become more aware of how uncomfortably crowded my mind is with all that metal. I now want to be free of the patterned thoughts that have etched deep grooves in my brain, taking me to these dark corners.
And I believe a relationship with God is the thing that can help. God’s unconditional love can gradually wear down the sharp metal debris from our human relationships. To God, I am simply His beloved. As are you. As are all of us. And yet it’s surprisingly difficult to accept this kind of love, freely given and always waiting for us.
God knows everything about us – our unspoken dream and fears, along with our deepest shame – and still loves us. God’s love is so far beyond any human love we’ve experienced that we can’t help but be skeptical. But I’ve found that if I can take just a few small steps in faith and continue to do the spiritual practices that allow me to tap into this love, it can have profound changes. In fact, this may be the only thing that can round down the sharp edges of my painful beliefs and eventually help them rust away so they can be brushed out of the dark corners of my mind.
A Closing Prayer
Blessings for you who live with a crowded mind, full of painful remnants from your inevitably flawed human relationships. May you come to realize that not all your beliefs about yourself are true. May we all be brave enough to take a few steps in faith and find a way to experience God’s love for each of us – as flawed but beloved individuals. May we be strong enough to work together with God to wear down the shards of painful beliefs and find peace. Amen.