Pay Attention

“God does not reserve such a lofty vocation to certain souls only; on the contrary, He is willing that all should embrace it. But He finds few who permit Him to work such sublime things for them.” – St. John of the Cross

Contemplation is a whole lot simpler than most people think it is.

Contemplation is a whole lot harder than most people think it is.

People are incredulous, suspicious even, if you tell them that the deepest form of prayer requires no words or actions. No kneeling, no rosaries, no recitations.

Contemplation is about presence. Being totally present in the here and now. Presence is the foundation of every spiritual practice. If you say a rosary or attend mass or receive eucharist, it does no good if you have your mind off elsewhere, compiling your to-do list or replaying old conversations. You have to show up in mind, heart, and body and be present.

That’s what contemplative prayer is. It’s very simple to do:

Offer your presence to Christ
Sit, not thinking about anything in particular.
When you realize you’ve become distracted, gently come back to being present.*
Repeat until the time is up.

That’s it. That’s all you do. Which is to say that you don’t do anything at all. You just sit there. All transformation comes from Christ.

Contemplation has somehow gotten tainted with New Age-y metaphors and language. Contemplation is not New Age. Contemplation is hard core old-school back-to-basics prayer.
Contemplation is not a relaxation technique. Contemplation will not raise you to a higher plane of spiritual awareness. It will not connect you with all beings. It will not help you transcend anything. And it will not, surprisingly, get you any closer to God. He’s as close to you as He can be already. Contemplation will help you learn to get out of your own way and pay attention.

Advertisers, publicists, and image consultants spend billions every year developing clever ways to get our attention. They do this because they understand that our attention is a precious commodity that only we can give. And they hope that if they can get our attention, they can transform the way we think and behave. And extensive studies show that they are justified in spending those billions. Our attention is a commodity worth a lot of money to the secular world.

So why not offer some of the same to God? It is the only thing we can really give Her that She wants. We pay out our attention to hundreds of profane things every day. Why not spend twenty minutes paying attention to the divine?

*A number of different techniques have been developed for doing this. All of them very simple.

I didn’t really write this for you, my blog readers. Especially not for you, my buddhist friends to whom this is a Catholic flavor of old hat. This is really getting my thoughts down, my elevator speech so to speak, for a contemplative practice group I want to organize in my parish. Hey, that’s why I call this Overflow. But any comments or corrections or coaching would be welcome.

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