From The Attentive Life
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.
God wants us to be attentive people, as he is an attentive God. 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,” (Matthew 6:34).
The influential French writer Simone Weil believed that attention is the very heart of prayer, and her French forebear Blaise Pascal also felt that inattention is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life. Their conviction, which is also that of many spiritual teachers through the ages, deserves our careful attention. Our world distracts us in many ways. Yet attentiveness, as I have come to see, is most critical for us to find the way to clarity of heart, and clarity is the path to seeing God, who is the source and end of all our longing.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,” said Jesus, – we could translate this saying as, “Blessed are the clear at center” – “for they shall see God.” Such is the promise for those whose hearts – their personal centers – are directed toward God.
Moses was one who paid attention. In the desert, having fled from Pharaoh’s court, out tending his sheep, he saw a bush that was burning but did not burn up. “I must turn aside and look at this great sight,” he said. “When the Lord saw that he had turned aside God called to him,” (Exodus 3:3-4). That desert place became holy ground where Moses heard God’s call to save his people from slavery in Egypt.
The “burning bushes” in our path are signs planted in our life, opportunities to listen and pay attention. How often does God put signs out that we miss because our life is filled with so much stuff?
Long after Moses’s burning bush encounter, he was summoned with the elders of Israel to meet God on Mount Sinai. The book of Exodus contains a magnificent description of what they saw. Under God’s feet appeared “something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very Heaven for clearness,” (Exodus 24:10). In my inner eye I picture a clear expanse of open blue sky and imagine the greatness of God, for whom the sky, metaphorically, is a pavement on which he walks, with the clearness of Heaven bringing clarity to the very rocks of the Earth.
When Jesus was transfigured, that same clarity of light made his clothes blaze with the bright whiteness, brighter than any launderer could make them, as the voice of the Father told the disciples: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him,” (Matthew 17:5).
This is the clarifying light that I seek: to be “clear at center” and so with true attentiveness “to see God in all things, and all things in God.”