The most pressing spiritual need in our world today is people who know how to regularly pay attention to the best of all things. Curbing this fundamental spiritual problem thus entails two things: (1) learning how to pay attention, and (2) connecting with / knowing about / experiencing the best of all things. In the case of the first, our society is losing the habits of mind that ensured the kind of mental staying-power needed for contemplation and prayer (e.g., memorization, meditation, lectio divina). This requires uninterrupted blocks of time in which children, teenagers, and adults stay with something. No interruption, no distraction, no diversion. The reason our education system in the United States is in such shambles right now is, in part, due to this “inattention to attention.” We break students’ attention by breaking up their days, moving swiftly from subject to subject, from teacher to teacher, one activity to another, and we certainly never force or encourage them to memorize or meditate on much of anything. How can one pay attention to anything, let alone to the best of all things, if one has not cultivated habits of mind and soul that can keep one focused on something for very long? if one’s mind is so quickly allured by noises, text messages, and emails? It should come as no surprise that distracted children grow up into adults who lack the ability to stay with anything or anyone for very long, with deleterious effects on individuals, cities, and nations.
So what about the second, attending to the best of all things? It all depends upon the range of things one believes there is to behold. If the world is merely physical, the best of all things is the best of all physical things: perhaps the male or female form? sun, moon, and stars? sub-atomic particles? or some other aspect of physical reality? But if there is more beyond the physical, and the best of all things is one of them, then one must search out invisible things in order to connect with / know about / and experience it for themselves. Without this openness and awareness to the invisible things, one cannot know oneself, let alone God.
Because we do not have people who know how to pay attention, we do not have a society of people capable of attending to the best of all things; and because people have limited their attention to the things they can—quite literally—only hold in their hands, they live like the cave-dwellers of Plato’s Republic, content to contemplate their own shadows, insensible to the light that leads to both self-awakening and the knowledge of God.