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How the term “pay attention” in different languages can boost your prayer

Prier, Jeune, adolescent


Image d'illustration.

Cerith Gardiner - published on 10/05/23

In the English language we're used to "paying attention," but seeing the term in other languages helps to give perspective to this skill.

Being able to fully pay attention to someone, or something, is becoming a bit of a lost art. In fact our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, partly due to our attachment to our smartphones.

However, when you look at the various terms and phrases used to denote “paying attention” used round the world, you might find a few ways to boost this all-important skill.

In fact, seeing how the term “attention” is framed linguistically shines a light on how cultures perceive giving their time to others, as a post on Twitter demonstrated:

(Although it’s important to note that in French, faire attention actually means “be careful,” whereas prêter attention, is the more accurate translation, meaning “lend attention.”)

Further foreign influence

This discussion of attention was picked up in an article in Forward, in which the writer points out that in Farsi, “attention is something you do,” whereas in Russian you turn yourself to attention, and in Finnish we “attach our attention,” which is kiinnitä huomiota, if you”d like a try!

Interestingly, in Hebrew if you want to pay attention you normally say “lasim lev,” or “set your heart to it.”

Now if you apply all these different nuances in the way attention is given, then you can examine how you can use them to help you focus on your prayer life — considering how easy it is to get side-tracked when we’re trying to concentrate on our prayer.

There is a way in which attention is lent in prayer, given that while we are encouraged to pray always, we can only give our complete attention to prayer at certain times.

You certainly have to make attention if you want to be able to concentrate on prayer. It requires an act of the will, and in this way, is something we do. And the more heart we’ve put in it, the better.

So the next time we start to pray, perhaps we need to consider “setting our heart to it,” or “attaching our attention” to the One we’re trying to hear.

Or maybe you’d prefer to look to our German brothers and sisters and “gift your attention” to God in gratitude for His unconditional love.

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