“Prayer is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God … Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance, the love of our neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance … The way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he [/she] is, in all his [/her] truth. Only he [/she] who is capable of attention can do this”
– “Reflections of the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” from Simone Weil’s Waiting for God
You may have realized by now that I’ve been reading some Simone Weil as of late, which is a first for me. Thus far I’ve found her fascinating and insightful and vexing all at once. But, I don’t want to write any book reviews or pseudo book reviews. Rather: prayer. And how this quote construes prayer as attention.
Prayer is hard for pretty much everyone, I would guess. My own difficulty with it can be broken into two parts, roughly: 1) For most of my life, when it came to prayer, the most obvious option was petitionary prayer, since it’s fairly easy to “list off problems.” However, this option ceased to be viable as my primary prayer practice when I started realizing how hard it is to make sense of petitionary prayer. 2) This left me with the option of more meditational forms of prayer, but I could never muster up the discipline to be even moderately consistent about such prayer. (Maybe discipline could be listed as a problem of its own, actually.)
In other words: assuming Weil is right about the link between prayer and attention, I haven’t been motivated to consistently engage in this kind of attention-demanding practice. I haven’t known how to give prayer attention, I suppose. The kind of soul-emptying attention that Weil speaks of doesn’t come easily to my chatty mind. But I’m working on this. I’ve been grasping after the ability to attend to God, attempting to attend to God through prayer.
About three weeks ago, I noticed an off-hand reference to prayer beads in this blog post. So I made myself some prayer beads. And then I started praying. Every morning, every evening. It’s been a pretty successful practice, thus far. One, it’s helped me to focus and be contemplative. I have something to “say”, which keeps my chatty tendencies happy… yet what I’m “saying” is rhythmically repetitive, so it doesn’t feel like my usual speech in which I’m full of, well, me.
Two: at the same time, my prayer hasn’t been entirely devoid of petitions and my own words. (Which is a good thing, I mean.) The prayers I pray using my prayer beads are sort of like templates – or foundations. They create space for God’s presence, but there’s also room in that space petitions and requests that are rather more sincere than my prior “shopping-list” approach.
Three (and finally): I love that the phrases of my prayers become stuck in my head. For instance, the prayer for the “weeks” that I pray in the evening is “Jesus, redeemer of the world, give us your peace.” So I fall asleep praying this. And in the morning, as I walk to work, “Lord, show me your love and mercy, for I put my trust in you” bobs to the surface of my consciousness.
That’s all. Hopefully this wasn’t too self-righteous a set of comments; I intended to write this as an overflow of my astonishment over the fact that I’ve actually been praying for three whole weeks. (Such a long time!… or not.)