the ‘attention as prayer’ think you’re tagging is super interesting. where does the idea come from? what sort of stuff have you read about it? i’m actually thinking of writing something in that sort of area so it would be really helpful. i don’t currently post things i write online but if i do i could send you a link/give you credit too?

it’s a very old idea, but that particular formulation comes from simone weil:

attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. it presupposes faith and love. 

absolutely unmixed attention is prayer. {x}

she talks about attention as “inner supplication” – as a letting go of self, of will, of ego. “that attention which is so full that the ‘I’ disappears.” to be fully attentive to let go of yourself and your judgements. it means listening without thinking about what you’re going to say next, or adding additional meaning to what you’re hearing, but emptying yourself to be open to the whole truth of another person. rowan williams puts it like this:

involvement may be a less dramatic, if not less costly, matter, of learning to listen: to listen to the silence in the voices of others, to watch the spaces in their actions. to attend to them in self-forgetfulness. {x}

it’s what the early christian monks were doing in the third century egyptian desert. it’s what asceticism has always been about: the ability to renounce the self so that you can share more fully in the lives of others and cross the barriers of self-consciousness and self-absorption which cut us off from each other. the desert fathers were particularly concerned with “inattention, the failure to see what is truly there in front of us – because our own vision is clouded by self-obsession and self-satisfaction.” {x}

asceticism is a difficult thing to talk about because we see it inevitably through the lens of anorexia, which is an asceticism which pushes us further into ourselves, away from the world and other people. but when the desert fathers fasted (and when simone weil did), they were trying to strip away the aspects of self which prevented full and loving life with others. in prayer, you do the same thing: you make yourself (or rather ask to be made) quiet, attentive, receptive, so that the “still small voice” of God may be heard. attention of this sort, focused entirely beyond yourself, is complete openness to the other: a willingness to let them be completely as they are, without interpretation. and this is love.

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