By watching parents in church with their small children, I think I am learning a little about how to deal with my own frenetically wandering thoughts; I've noticed that when the children "act up," the parents are very patient with them, not harsh, and just keep gently repositioning them, so to speak (occasionally, a parent will takes a child out of the service for a moment and then bring the him/her back). For the littlest of children, the fruits of this process are not even, or are barely, in sight, yet the parents don't abandon their kind steadiness and consistency. It doesn't seem to be about punishment at all, but rather, about a slow and extremely incremental training process, which reminds me of the title of Eugene Peterson's book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. And it makes me think of a verse from a hymn I haven't heard or sung for years:
Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
That which is not now, nor could be,
Then shall be our own.
So I see that it is counterproductive to scold, fight, argue, or engage with unhelpful thoughts during worship, but rather, I need to simply, even gently reposition my attention, and proceed from there.
And even thoughts that seem to be--and probably are--worth following/developing, can be filed away for later, since the purpose of the service is Presence, not analysis or cogitation.
All of this feels rather grounding. I think of the Peterson translation of Ps. 131:
"I've kept my feet on the ground.
I've cultivated a quiet heart."
This mention of the ground makes me think of how we stand in worship and prayer, and how "grounding" it is.
Peterson's translation continues:
"Like a baby content in its mother's arms,
my soul is a baby content."
However, I haven't seen this verse translated in that way in other versions, where it's always a "weaned child," connoting, perhaps, a toddler. Indeed, nursing infants and babes-in-arms don't seem to have all that much difficulty in church, generally, since they aren't yet mobile (I vaguely remember that stage of mothering as relatively simple compared to the toddler stage!). This is how the NKJV has it:
"Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me."
More on this next time...