Saturday, May 25, 2013

Absolutely Unmixed Attention on God is Prayer

Mackinac Bridge

The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote: "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." I would add "on God," to now read: Absolutely unmixed attention on God is prayer.

Prayer is a challenge to many today because we live in the Age of Increasing Distraction. We are the linkers, the tweeters, the Net-surfers skimming over the surface of life. Fewer and fewer can focus and attend to one thing. Few dig deep in one location.

Ours is the world of information overload. In 1600 an English writer named Barnaby Rich complained, “One of the great diseases of this age is the multitude of books that doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought into the world.” (In Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Kindle Locations 2872-2874) Poor Barnaby Rich would not believe the gigatons of idle matter being hatched today!

Stanford University's Clifford Nass wrote that internet multitaskers are "suckers for irrelevancy." "Everything distracts them," and their minds are programmed to pay attention to the garbage of life. (Ib., K2424)

Perpetual distractedness is an enemy of real relationship, which means it is an enemy of prayer, since true prayer is relationship with God. (To better understand this see Richard Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home.)

"Unmixed attention" is heart-purity which, as Kierkegaard told us, wills one thing. This is relationship language. Love language. To pray is to love, just as the hours Linda and I spent yesterday talking and listening to one another is to love each other. Spending time listening and talkiing and sharing with God - 1-on-1 - is loving God.

There is a kind of "knowing" which only comes from one-thing attentiveness. Philosopher of science Michael Polanyi called this "personal knowledge." We get captured by the object of our attentiveness. Prayer is being captured by God alone, in loving relationship. When that happens the multitasking disease is healed, and prayer as conversation with God begins.