Wandering minds are a common plague for church goers—if measured by the numbers of people who mention it in confession. However, it is not a new problem or one created by modern society and the rise of boredom. We find in the desert fathers some discussion and advice on the wandering mind. In the following story from the desert fathers, a monk asks Abba Poeman about his wandering thoughts, using the Greek word logismoi which was the common way the desert fathers referred to their thought process.
The elder took him out into the open air and said to him: ‘Inflate your chest and hold the winds’ (Prov. 30.4), but he said: ‘I cannot do that.’
The elder said to him: ‘If you cannot do that, neither can you prevent the logismoi from coming: your (task) is to withstand them.’ ”
(Give me a Word: The Alphabetical Saying of the Desert Fathers, p 232)
We can’t exactly stop all the thoughts that enter into our minds. Even in church little things can remind us of other people, things we need to get done, problems which need to be dealt with. The mind can wander away from the words of the liturgy and from the liturgical ritual. The spiritual warfare consists not in preventing such thoughts, but in how we deal with them—whether we let them lead us, or we learn to corral them and return to the important spiritual work at hand. So if you find your mind wandering during the liturgy, know this is the experience of even saints and seasoned monks. You are in good company—now fight the good fight and return to the community’s spiritual warfare at hand.