From The Attentive Life
Attentiveness means respecting, attending to, waiting on, looking at, and listening to the other – the persons and things that we encounter – for what they are in themselves, not what we can make of them. We are called to pay attention to the Other – our Creator God – to know and worship him.
Paradoxically, attentiveness may be just the opposite of “fixing our attention.” Instead it involves a letting go of our usual need to control, an opening of ourselves to what we are being told or shown.
Our instinct is to hold on.
Elia Kazan said of the poet Sylvia Plath that “the world for Sylvia Plath only existed for her to write about.” Plath paid attention to her work and her words, but the possessiveness that consumes is the opposite of the attentiveness that frees and transforms.
During one of my retreats at Mepkin Abbey, I wanted to do a watercolor painting, and after several days I selected a large spreading oak tree to serve as my subject. I spent an hour or two painting en plein air. The next day as I was leaving, a regret stabbed me: I realized I had treated that tree only as an object for me to paint, had not really attended to it as a tree made by God and beautiful in itself. In a penitential mood, I turned my car, drove back to where that tree stood, and (hoping no one else was looking) walked up to the tree, put my arms as far around it as I could reach, and asked God to help me to honor the tree as valuable for what he had made it to be, not just how useful it was to me!
Sin, as Augustine defines it, is to be incurvatus in se – curved in on oneself. The Quaker writer, Douglas Steere, defined sin as inattention. “For prayer is awakeness, attention, intense inward openness. In a certain way sin could be described as anything that destroys this attention.” Salvation – true freedom – is just the opposite of sin, turning us out to the reality of the created world of which we are a part, and to the Creator who calls us to be attenders.