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A friend of mine, when I mentioned Simone Weil, reminded me of something else she wrote; namely that, for her, prayer was attention and attention was prayer. For me, this spoke brilliantly to a question Lorianne asked a few weeks back, about how non-theistic people can respond when suffering friends put out requests for prayers. I’ve felt similarly at a loss in the past; I don’t pray, at least not to some benevolent monogod waiting to hear my pleas, but it seems heartless to tell this to someone in pain.

But attention . . . this I’m comfortable with. After all, what higher gift is there than fully paying attention to someone? Words are clumsy vehicles when it comes to grief; so often they tend to prod and poke rather than support, and sometimes even the gentlest phrase hurts. But attention and presence amount to a literal total giving of oneself. While I don’t know how I’d phrase that response, especially, again, in the context of praying, and especially given what I just wrote about the blunt infelicity of language, it’s still something I’d put forth. Or, I suppose, something that would allow me to comfortably tell someone I’d pray for her.


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