We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and “that in every place the eyes of God 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 Holy One with reverence” (Ps. 2:11), and again “Sing praise wisely” (Ps. 47:8); and “in the presence of the angels I will sing to you” (Ps. 138:1). Let us consider, then, how we ought 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 do 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; 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To be attentive is to be conscious, the mind withdrawn from thought, imagination, expectation.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 in the whole of us, wherever we may be – inside the oratory and outside. A single-pointed focus is the one thing needed: on voices at prayer, on the mantra, your toe 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 of 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 silence. For the meditator, this is how the mind comes to be in harmony with silence.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NET)