Monday, September 4, 2023

SOG | Still: Becoming More Attentive (Less Distracted) People


"Calm and Stars" by Yongung Kim

From the time we were children we were told to "pay attention," as if this were the simplest thing in the world. But in fact attentiveness is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp and one of the hardest disciplines to learn. For we are very distractible people in a very distracting world. + Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life

"God wants us to be attentive people, as He is an attentive God." Is this true? And if so, what would life look like if we were less distracted by lesser things than those we are called to love and enjoy? How would we inhabit time with each other, being more fully present in an abundant way of life? One practical way we could do this is to listen to people provide their answers to these questions regularly:

1) History: "Tell me your story." "Where did you grow up?"
2) Heart: "What's your favorite (team, restaurant, vacation)?"
3) Habits: "What are you into?" "What do you do with your free time?"
4) Hurts: "How are you doing with (name the situation)?" 
B.L.E.S.S. Like Jesus: Listening Closely & Paying Attention

Leighton Ford's The Attentive Life has helped me enter into the holy wild of questions like the ones above more than any other book this year. And one of the main entry points is returning again to the concept of time with people in relation to chronos and kairos:

The most vital way to measure our lives is not by chronological timechronos time, to use the Greek word – but in terms of kairos, the word often used in the Bible to speak of those opportune times that become turning points. Kairos is the word Jesus often used when He said, "My time is not yet," or "My time has come." 
To be fully alive is to pay attention to kairos encounters. ... 
Many of the words of God in the Bible call His people to "look," "see," "listen," "give heed." Jesus (as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message) said in His Sermon on the Mount, "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now" (Mt 6:34). 
For more on chronos and kairos, check out:  
Receiving Sabbath | Your Invitation into Rest with Jesus 

Poets, writers, artists, naturalists all help us to understand what it means to "attend" and teach us that we can think of attentiveness. 

The Qualities of Attentiveness 
1) Being fully present in the moment. 
2) Looking long enough. 
3) Looking freshly at what is familiar. 
4) Being available. 
5) Becoming aware. 
6) Waiting with expectancy. 
7) Being mindful. 
8) Being wakeful.

For discovering how this present, attentive way of life is written into the story of humanity, we return again to the Story of God we are invited to live into each day.

Creation: This God creates, playfully, purposefully – out of nothing  space and stars, sun and moon, light and darkness, dandelions and donkeys, whales and kingfishers, and a handsome couple. And then He doesn't get bored: He sees everything He has made and takes delight in it. And instead of standing at a distance, He comes to visit His creatures in a garden in the cool of the evening.

Crisis: But things don't go happily ever after. Still, when Adam and Eve are not mindful of Him and the good boundaries He has set, He doesn't walk away and wash His hands. He walks in the spoiled garden and calls "Where are you" – still paying attention (see also Godspeed: The Path to Being Known & Loved Fully). Later He does wash the whole world He made with a flood. But even then He is paying attention, starting the creation all over again with one man and his family and an ark like a menagerie of animals. Not one escapes His attention! 

Covenant: The story goes on. He pays attention to one nomad, Abraham, and makes him a father of nations. Pays attention to the cries of slaves, and makes Moses pay attention to a burning bush so he will heed the call to lead them out. And this God looks with insight as well as sight. Why does God choose David as the king of Israel? While the people choose leaders because they look attractive on the outside, God looks on "the heart." He sees that this shepherd boy, who pays attention to stars and sheep, also knows that "the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry" (Ps 34:15 NIV). Fast-forward through the centuries. Wayward as His people are, God never stops paying attention, until He comes up with the biggest attention-getter of all. The lens of the story moves in from wide-angle to close up. It zooms in on one unmarried virgin, who listens with her heart when the angel Gabriel comes to tell her that God is paying special attention to her.

Christ: And He pays attention quietly. His Son is born not in a palace with fanfare and flares across the evening sky but in a manger, in the stillness of a Middle Eastern night. God sends His Son to live in His own creation and to seek our attention. He pays attention without clamor – to the fine smoothness of the wood He planes in the carpenter's shop ... to the words of God he learns from the ancient Scripture ... to the stirrings of His own young heart sensing that He must above all be about His Father's business. When the time comes, Jesus pays attention:

+ to the bronzed faces of the fishermen He calls to be with Him 
+ to the hardened faces of the tax collectors and offbeat characters He recruits to be His disciples 
+ to the longing face of an outcast woman by a well 
+ to the seeking face of a philosopher who comes to talk by night 
+ to the pleading face of one blind beggar by the road 
+ to the taunting faces of the soldiers who nail Him to the cross 
+ to the pain-wracked face of a thief dying beside Him on the cross 
+ to His mother, whom in His last moments He commends to the care of His beloved disciple John 
He is the Great Attender!

And the mind with which He paid attention was the mind of His Father – the One who had been paying attention all along. "Don't you know," He said (here I paraphrase), "that God pays attention to one broken-winged sparrow when it falls? That He pays attention to the flowers in springtime? That He is so detail-oriented that He can tell you exactly how many hairs are left on your balding skull?" Once he painted a word picture of this God. "Don't you know that God is like a father whose no-account son has demanded his inheritance, left home and squandered it all on wine, women and song? But this father waits every evening at the gate of the village, peering into the distance, never for a moment forgetting that ne'er-do-well. And when the son drags himself home, broke and broken, the father sprints out to give him a huge hug, throwing for him him the biggest party you ever saw, giving him a brand-new wardrobe and the finest jewelry, as if he were the very best son a father could ever have. Don't you know God is like that? (see Lk 15) "No," his amazed listeners would say, "we have no fathers like that in our village. We would either declare such a son as dead to us, no son at all, or if he came back begging, put him on probation for a long time." To which Jesus would reply, so gently, so strongly: "But that is exactly what God is like. God loves like that. His love is focused attention. He does not force His attention on you. But He still longs for you."

"Peace, be still." + Jesus (Mark 4:39)

Church: It is often been during the darkest hours that God gets our attention and teaches us to pay attention. It sometimes doesn't happen quickly, and the process can often be terribly painful, like groping through a dense fog toward a wavering and distant light. Still the light has burned on. And we are still learning the truth of the old hymn about God who "standeth in the shadows," keeping watch-care over His own. There were those who held on to us at those times when our faith was feeble – sometimes with a brief and honest word, more often just by being present with us. I have learned that God does not do His attending all by Himself. He has set the world up so that He has His "attendants" (i.e. His Church), namely you and me. He pays attention to us human beings so that we in turn may be the tenders of His world.

New Creation: God pays attention and call us to be a people who pay attention. He has put us here in His world as His gardeners, to tend it as He tends us, and as His shepherds, to watch over His people as He watches over us. 

+ adapted from Leighton Ford's The Attentive Life: Discerning God's Presence in All Things

Bonus | The God Who Attends to Us w/ Bilquis Sheikh

The story of the Bible is not merely the story of a deity who launched the cosmos and then turned His attention elsewhere. Quite the contrary: it reveals a God who is mindful, who keeps paying attention, whose mind does not wander. He is a Father who watches with careful attention. This is the very nature of God, and a truth that touches the deepest longings of our lives. 
Bilquis Sheikh, a Muslim woman, was brought to faith in Christ by coming to know God as a loving Father. She describes the moment after a long search when this truth seized her imagination: "A breakthrough of hope flooded me. Suppose God were like a father? If my earthly father would put aside everything to listen to me, why wouldn't my heavenly Father do the same?" She went to her knees and reached over to her bedside table where she kept both the Bible and the Qur'an. Lifting them, one in each hand, she prayed: "Which, Father? Which one is Your Book?" And then a remarkable thing happened ... I heard a voice inside my being, a voice ... full of kindness, yet at the same time full of authority. And the voice said, 'In which book do you meet Me as your Father?' 'In the Bible.' ... " 
The Qur'an that Muslims read uses many respectful terms to speak of the greatness of God. But it has no name for God as Father: For the devout Muslim to associate God with human beings in an intimate and personal way is to commit the sin of "shirk" – of associating God with what is not God. Yet a friend in Cairo has told me that his Muslim friends are deeply touched when he promises to pray to God for their needs – the Father who, as Bilquis Sheikh wrote, would "put aside everything to listen to me."


Bonus for Becoming More Attentive:

More Story of God posts:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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