The pinball machine in the corner of the bar suddenly began to play a tune and lights flashed in its backglass. Turning slightly on my barstool, I looked at the machine and mused, “That’s pretty cool. No one has been playing with it for a while, so it plays music like the pied-piper to attract customers.” The come-hither tactic worked, I sipped some beer from my glass and slid from my stool at the bar. My scant experience with pinball machines meant a low score, but I decided to try my hand anyway.
My first pull on the spring-loaded ball launcher was so weak that I thought my ball wasn’t going to make it to the playing field. But then it touched a mushroom bumper and sprung to life to bounce rapidly between all the bumpers. The machine’s backglass showed the number score rising quickly. Each point was celebrated with flashing lights and a noisy, “boing, boing, boing!”
As suddenly as the scoring spree started, it ended. The ball slowly began to roll down toward the apron. The only defense I had to prevent losing the ball were the two flippers guarding the drain. Timing was important, but even knowing this, I didn’t wait to properly bat the ball back into play. In my excitement I vigorously and indiscriminately pressed the buttons to make the flippers wildly flap. The entire game table bounced under my hands. Someone watching laughed and said, “Be careful. You’re going to make it go ‘tilt’.” That gave me pause. When a pinball machine goes ‘tilt’, it shuts down. Despite my efforts, the ball slipped between the ineffectual paddles and disappeared.
The second ball managed to stay in play much longer. I even saved it from going down the drain a couple times by delivering well-timed blows with the flippers. When hitting the bumpers, the ball displayed a fascinating amount of energy. It seemed to have a mind of its own, so the resulting score didn’t really feel like mine. A player is just a witness, and my only influence on the game rested entirely on stopping the ball from going down the drain.
I haven’t thought about playing with a pinball machine for a long time. But the memories came back during morning prayers last week. While praying for someone who loves to garden, my mind suddenly took off and jumped excitedly back and forth between her flowerbeds and my new plan for planting tiny carrot seeds this year. My mind bounced like a pinball from there, to a “too many rabbits in my garden” tangent before realizing my thoughts had veered away from my friend’s health and wellbeing. Catching myself off track, I mentally redirected.
Resolving to not let my mind wander, I continued with my conversation with the Lord. Despite my efforts, while praying about a local community that has ground water contamination, my mind wandered off to my amazing witnessing of the recent spring-time ice break up in the Little Eau Pleine River. Another mental search and rescue brought me back to prayer time.
Prayers for a friend who lives in Italy suddenly bounced off to thoughts about the trip a family member will be taking to Rome this summer. From there, my brain bounced back and forth between making a mental note to give that person some spending money, and remembering all the things I enjoyed when I visited Rome in 2013.
Realizing that I was off track again, I commented wryly to the Lord, “It’s very hard to make my mind stay on track when all it wants to do is bounce around like a pinball. As you know, Lord, a pinball machine’s score is governed by the number of bumpers the ball hits. Dearest Lord, when I pray to you and my mind seems to have a mind of its own, do you, in your great love and mercy give me a higher score in special graces for all the times I pull my mind back to you?”
I smiled because I recognized that my question was childish. A feeling of joyful contentment washed over me. Outside the bedroom windows, rapidly moving spring clouds uncovered the sun. Blinding sunshine flooded the room. I told in the Lord, “It’s so nice to talk with a good friend like you.”