Little Theresa, Kenilworth’s own home-grown saint, didn’t know how to pray; but she did know how to pay attention.
She didn’t know a Thee from a Thou, couldn’t decline the verb beseech, would get get lost in a labyrinth and tangled in a rosary. She was never sure to whom her prayers were addressed, which pronoun to use, what was the proper name for the Divine. She could never know that her prayers were heard, her appreciation acknowledged, her petitions fulfilled. When she came across a meaningful prayer, she would learn to recite it; then, once recited, it would lose all its meaning.
She tried to pray standing up and sitting down, on her knees, and whirling on her feet. She lifted her head and bowed it low. She raised her hands and folded them on her lap. She stretched out on her stomach, touched her forehead, and ate the dirt. She stretched out on her back and marveled at the stars. She twirled and danced and sat very, very, very still. She sang and muttered, davined and declaimed, supplicated and invoked, implored, petitioned and entreated. She spun prayer wheels and fluttered prayer flags. She prayed on mountaintops and in closets, in despair and in delight. Whenever she did it one way, she thought she should be doing it another. When she spoke, she didn’t know what to say.
No, Theresa, Kenilworth’s own saint, didn’t know how to pray; but she did know how to pay attention.
When she paid attention, she suspended her thoughts. Prayers then were non-existent. Petitions couldn’t be further from her lips. She was an empty cup, waiting to be filled. A radio tuned to the station. A lover, legs spread, wet and eager for penetration.
She told herself that God will only come to those who desire. He is no rapist. She has to desire ardently, passionately, fully prepared. He only comes to those who have learned to pay attention.
Attention was an effort, but it didn’t tire her. Indeed, when fatigue set in, her ability to pay attention vanished. She found the greatest rewards of attention are not to be sought out, but waited for, expectantly. She couldn’t find them herself and, if she searched for them, she created constructs she couldn’t tell from truth.
Because Little Theresa, the patron saint of the Epiphany Cafe, knew how to pay attention, she knew that Chai Latte’s sales were down, Rabbi ! had doubts, and the Waving Man was not waving at cars, contrary to appearances, but wanting to be the first to greet someone in particular who drove an unknown car. She knew that the Crazy Dog Lady, at times, got annoyed with her dogs, and the High Street Witch loathed her brother. She could tell, before anyone else, that the brother, the Geeky Guy, had a crush on the Lisping Barista. However, she couldn’t say why the the Lisping Barista had disappeared or where she had gone, only that she had more pain than all the rest; a searing, unyielding, and, as yet, unidentifiable pain.
Little Theresa wasn’t psychic, that’s not how she knew these things. She didn’t have a special conduit of information direct from God; despite being a saint. No, that’s not how she knew what she knew. She knew because she paid attention.
Paying attention to people and paying attention to God was the same thing, as far as Little Theresa was concerned. She found that all people ever need is attention and the most difficult thing to pay attention to was pain. Not many can do it. Doctors would rather prescribe drugs than pay attention to pain. Nurses are more eager for their shift to end. Ministers would just as soon say a prayer and be done with it. This isn’t because paying attention is hard. Paying attention consists only of not doing something, emptying your self of its contents, so it can be filled with another’s pain.
It doesn’t sound attractive to be filled with another’s pain, but, to a saint, it is. It’s indistinguishable from being filled by God.
Because she could pay attention, Little Theresa knew that I was listening in on the counseling session between the Weatherbeaten Man in a Cowboy Hat and the Therapist Emeritus when no one else knew. She knew that I was not a real person and, lacking my own life, had to inhabit the lives of others. She didn’t judge me for it because she was a saint and because judgement would’ve broken her attention.
Little Theresa didn’t need to listen in on the counseling session. She already knew what was in a person’s heart. She could pay attention.
What was the pain she recognized in the Weatherbeaten Man in a Cowboy Hat? The pain of being lonely when others are pressing their demands upon you. The pain of possessing knowledge that cannot be shared.