Daily Riches: Prayer and the Wandering Mind (John Donne, Brennan Manning, John Bunyan) *

“I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door; I talk on in the same posture of praying, eyes lifted up, knees bowed down, as though I prayed to God; and if God or his angels should ask me when I thought last of God in that prayer, I cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I had forgot what I was about, but when I began to forget it I cannot tell. A memory of yesterday’s pleasures, a fear of tomorrow’s dangers, a straw under my knee, a noise in mine ear, a light in mine eye, an anything, a nothing, a fancy, a chimera in my brain troubles me in my prayer.” John Donne

“One of the cardinal rules of prayer is: Pray as you can, don’t pray as you can’t. … Remember the only way to fail in prayer is not to show up.” Brennan Manning

“The great thing is prayer. Prayer itself. If you want a life of prayer, the way to get it is by praying.” Thomas Merton

“When you pray, rather let your heart be without words
than your words without heart.”
John Bunyan

“But when you pray,
go into your room,
close the door ….”
Matthew  6:6

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • John Donne shares very honestly about his problems in prayer, and the humor in his report shows he is not condemning himself. Perhaps he is just letting these distractions “float on downstream” – not resisting them or really even giving them any mind. What do you think? Can you extend grace to yourself in this regard as he does?
  • If you focus on the “noise of a fly” or the “monkeys in the trees” (Nouwen) you’ll probably give up in frustration. Can you “show up” according to plan each day, regardless of whether you feel delighted or distracted? What would be the importance of doing that?
  • For your “heart to be without words” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Have you tried to pray by just silently giving God your attention?


For More: Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry, eds. Coffin and Witherspoon

Thomas Merton is also good on this topic.


Thomas Merton expresses my heart for Daily Riches: “If I dare, in these few words, to ask you some direct and personal questions, it is because I address them as much to myself as to you. It is because I am still able to hope that a civil exchange of ideas can take place between two persons — that we have not yet reached the stage where we are all hermetically sealed, each one in the collective arrogance and despair of his own herd.” I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it with others. I appreciate your interest! – Bill (Psalm 90:14)

2 thoughts on “Daily Riches: Prayer and the Wandering Mind (John Donne, Brennan Manning, John Bunyan) *

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