February 24(25), June 26, October 26
We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and “that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked” (Prov. 15:3). But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.
We must always remember, therefore, what the Prophet says: “Serve the Lord with fear” (Ps. 2:11), and again “Sing praise wisely” (Ps. 46:8); and “In the presence of the angels I will sing to you” (Ps. 137:1). Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.
During communal prayer, if our minds are to be in harmony with our voices, then we need to be attending to these voices. In giving attention to the voice, to what is being said now, our minds are present, now. Only in the now, in the present, can the divine and the human be in harmony. Only in this now can the divine and the human go beyond being present to each other and into communion. In the spiritual life this now-union is revered and is the foundation for reverence; and it is the source of a wisdom that can only rise in a mind attentive with the divine life.
To be attentive is to be conscious, the mind withdrawn from thought, imagination, expectation. Consciousness is attention naked, a mind not analysing or judging. As we learn how to pray wisely and with reverence, we are becoming conscious. Reverence and wisdom are at home in a conscious mind.
Attention now is also attention embodied. As we pray the psalms in this attentive way, in voice and body, our experience of the psalms is itself embodied. When we are conscious, we are also embodied.
Attention can be the portal of God, the way in which grace moves into the whole of us, wherever we may be – inside the oratory and outside. A single-pointed focus is indeed the only thing needed: on voices at prayer, on the mantra, your foot on the earth, that feeling as it stirs, that leaf on a tree, the sound of a bird, the smile on a face. When we are attentive, we are moved with the grace in that moment. A community that does not practice attention is not graceful, it is not loving. It is not a community.
This practice of attention, of voice and mind coming to harmony within the body, prepares us for meditation. This is why it is best that a meditating community pray the psalms before meditating. As we meditate, attention harmonises with the mantra as the mantra sounds, over time, into eventual silence. For the meditator, this is how the mind comes to be in harmony with silence.
In the course of their journey he came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha, who was distracted with all the serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered, ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her.’ (Luke 10:38-42, RNJB)