Προσοχή (Prosoche) and Προσευχή (Proseuche)
Attention and Prayer
Did you know there are currently 7 billion smartphone lines in the world for a population of 7.5 billion people? Every day, 8 out of 10 adults in the United States use the internet and spend an average of 6.5 hours with their eyes affixed to a screen.
This is not a meditation on statistics, but a wakeup call to realize just how much technology has invaded our life and to think about some of the ramifications of such an invasion.
Putting the moral consequences aside for a moment, which are grave, it behooves us to think about one of the greatest victims of so much screen time: our attention. Attention, or prosoche in the Greek, is a critical element of the spiritual life, and the Fathers speak about it extensively in their writings. But healthy attention is also necessary in all the other aspects of our life for us to function properly.
In the enlightening book, The New Media Epidemic: The undermining of society, family, and our own soul (highly recommended and available in our church bookstore), the Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet informs us: “The worst damage caused by the new media is to the faculty of attention, and consequently, to concentration. The new media’s power to distract and disperse makes attention more and more difficult, be it to one’s own tasks, to others, or to God.”
Consider these two saying of the Church Fathers:
“As you pray and sing psalms to the Lord, watch out for the guile of the demons, for they seek to snatch the soul’s attention, distract the mind, and lead us to absent-mindedness” (Niketas Stethatos).
“We embitter the heart with the poison of evil thoughts when we neglect inner attention and the Jesus Prayer. But we sweeten the heart when, desiring God, we firmly practice inner attention and the Jesus Prayer in the workshop of the mind” (St. Hesychios the Priest).
The greatest exercise we can do to strengthen our attention is to pray – to focus and concentrate on God – and to read the Sacred Scriptures, together with spiritual writings and our prayer books.
Even though we are forced in these days to spend even more time in front of a screen , let us take care and pay attention that, for us, this is not the “new norm” but an aberration, something temporary that we cannot allow to become normalized. “Virtual” is just that: not real, but appearing as such, and practical only for certain circumstances.
As we enact patience and pray to God for our expeditious reunion as the Body of Christ in the House of God, let us pay attention to our attention, attending to prayer, to God, and to the needs of our neighbor.