Paper Prayers (Kyoto: Part 2)

A cushioned cadence graces the phrase so many people have spoken since Jim’s diagnosis: we are in their thoughts and prayers.

Neither of us was concerned about religious confluence; there are so many kinds of prayers.

I am especially fond of Simone Weil’s description: “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

Translator Stephen Mitchell explained, “In that sense, prayer has nothing religious about it. A mathematician working at a problem or a little kid trying to pick out scales on the piano is a person at prayer. . . . The attention itself is the quality that she wants to call prayer. So whatever context you’re putting it in, whether it’s inside a church or . . . inside a toy box, that’s the quality that is the sacred one, where there’s nothing else in the world but that little girl’s attempt to draw a red circle or that physicist’s attempt to make sense out of apparently messy facts.”

In Japan we witnessed a plethora of prayers and exhortations to spirits and deities.  Some fluttered on paper, strung in loose waves like a ship’s ropes when its sails are at rest; some were folded in sharp creases, interspersed with plaited twine (注連縄) and wrapped around trees or strung from the entrance gates to sacred spaces; some were coiled tightly in colorful spheres which adorned trees, or painted on votive plaques with tiny, tinkling bells.

We heard a man chanting prayers at a stone shrine on a narrow sidewalk as pedestrians maneuvered around him and bicycles whooshed and buses sputtered past, as if he were alone in this city of millions.

At the city’s oldest Shinto shrine, Kamigamo, we saw the perfect white sand cones monks form anew every day to purify the grounds–a task that, like the endless work engaging Camus’ Sisyphus, surely requires immaculately “unmixed attention.”


(To be continued……)



About Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She also is an adjunct professor at a law school on the banks of the Charles and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2020 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with Wordpress protocol and the numerous other wee buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.
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1 Response to Paper Prayers (Kyoto: Part 2)

  1. Wendy Lane says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Interesting thoughts. I believe God is the positive energy that moves the universe–and us as part of it– forward. I believe prayer is the vehicle which conveys that energy–like the wind moves a vessel on the sea. Ultimately, prayer is all we can give each other when there is no tangible other thing that will help. It is also all we can give ourselves, when all else fails. A prayerful life, in my mind, is one lived in alignment with all the best energies we can give the world and each other, guided by the collective goodness that is in all of us, and which I call God.
    In this way, please know that you, Sam, Noah, Emma and Suzannah are always in my prayers.


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