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Prayer is attention: What is before our eyes is wondrous

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Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 10/08/23

The human capacity to attend to things, says Jordan Peterson, is in some sense the highest psychological function

In the story about the lame man who would beg at the gate of the Temple (Acts 3:1-10), the man sees the Apostles Peter and John on their way in to pray, and so he begs them for alms. Peter fixed his gaze on the man; so did John. “Look at us!” Peter said. The lame man gave them his whole attention, hoping to get something. The healing we are looking for in life, the growth, starts by giving God our whole attention in prayer.

Throughout the Bible, God lovingly calls us to give him our attention. Through the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord beckons, “Be attentive to me, my people” (Is 51:4). God repeats in Proverbs, “To my words be attentive. … To my wisdom be attentive” (Proverbs 4:20; 5:1). Why this insistence on attentiveness?

Proverbs also assures us that “the one who is attentive to their master will be enriched” (Prv 27:18). The human capacity to attend to things, says Jordan Peterson, is in some sense the highest psychological function. For attention always looks beyond what we know, moves us beyond what we already know, and transforms our thoughts, if we let it. “Attention is watching to see what is there in front of your eyes, and guiding yourself by a consequence of what you perceive.” In the encouraging words of Proverbs, “The one who pays attention to their way safeguards their life” (Prv 16:17). For what is there in front of our eyes is wondrous.

Attention in prayer is also a tension: a tension between what vies for my attention and the Mystery on which I need to keep focused. Attentiveness in prayer is the deliberate decision to do what Jesus says: “Pay close attention to what I tell you” (Lk 9:44). Which means Christ gives us the grace, the power to do just that.

The great Apostles stressed the importance of attention … and of its infinite benefits. “My entire attention,” confesses St. Paul, “is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me — life on high in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). And about “the prophetic message” which is the Gospel, St. Peter pleads, “Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). For then, with the Psalmist, we can in faith return the Lord’s words back to him: “Lord, let your ear be attentive to the voice of my supplication” (Ps 130:2).


Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.

See some of the earlier pieces below:

Prayer Is:Scripture
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