Attentiveness to God

"Take time to heal your inner self through meditation. Give your mind a few moments of ‘nothingness’ each day. Concentrate on your breathing to achieve a state of relaxation and peacefulness.”

After a long conference day — speaking and meeting readers and friends and supporters — my temptation was to see what Donald Trump event had everyone buzzin. But the note, flagged “meditation,” left by the room attendant was enough to prod an examination of conscience: What really is the best use of a few minutes of downtime? Recollection or MSNBC?

While the note would not offend any “spiritual not religious” sensibilities, it did strike me as refreshingly countercultural. As traffic below whisked by the windows, even at a late hour, all into the night and early morning, the message was about slowing down and tuning out the noise. Slowing down may happen, but what do we do and what do we pour into ourselves as we do so?

In his book, “Contemplative Provocations” (Ignatius, $17.95), Father Donald Haggerty, a New York archdiocesan priest who has spent extensive time with the Missionaries of Charity, writes about the “need for recollection as a prelude to prayer.” He says that it “contains a certain dilemma besides the difficulty of attaining it. It implies that a mental concentration is necessary if one is to pray. And so the demand to corral our wandering thoughts, to tie them down and keep them from breaching the enclosure of prayer. If we succeed in this effort, it is thought, we can presumably dwell on ‘spiritual things.’”

The challenge, as always, is about love. “Attentiveness to God is desirable in prayer,” Father Haggerty writes. “But the attention we are to cultivate comes from love, not a mental discipline directed simply at thoughts. What we should seek is a recollection that surrenders us to someone entirely beyond our thought, a beloved who will never stop to rest for long within a particular thought.”

In other words, it’s not about nothing, and it’s not about us, either, and our initiative or strategy. It’s about what God wants to do with the time we give. It’s about trusting God with our whole lives. It’s about letting him show us what he wants that to look like. Our challenge is the loving surrender to him to do with us as he wills.

That “spiritual not religious” trend may just be an indictment of what we’re doing with our free time. How much of it is in adoration? How much of it is in self-giving? Do we convey joy, even while “off duty”? How “All In,” as Pat Gohn writes in the title of her recent book on faith are we, really?

When Mother Angelica — whose eventual beatification Mass I’m looking forward to —died around this time last year, the Mass program for the Mass in Hanceville, Alabama, included, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

Is that happening? Is that what we’re giving ourselves over to? With every business trip and carpool — whatever it is we’re doing? Are we careful about what we pour into ourselves?

Do we treat ourselves — one another — as the tabernacles he’s asked us to be? And do we take everything as a reminder that that’s who we are about — all in, all his? Are we beholding his glory wherever we are? With or without the rare explicit invitation, we must strive for a posture of being that is something more contemplative.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).