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……)