ATTENTIVENESS: Awakenings by Leighton Ford

Discerning God’s Presence in All Things

Awakenings by Leighton Ford

From The Attentive Life

How then do we begin to come to attention to a God who is there?  Is there a formula, a set of instructions?  None I am sure that “work” just right for everyone.  I suppose it is more like waking from sleep or, even more, awakening to love and beauty.

What is it like when I wake up in the morning?  I am not aware that my subconscious is saying, Wake up, wake up.  Unless an alarm is ringing, there is usually just the realization: Sleep is over, I am awake.  It just comes, and my eyes open to the new day.  Falling in love is very much the same.  We don’t plan, Today I will fall in love.  We see, we meet, we talk, we listen, and scientists tell us the “mirror neurons” in our brains actually align with those of another person – in this case someone we are beginning to love, and hopefully theirs align with ours.  It’s both biology and poetry.

So we begin a day with a yawn and a stretch.  And we begin a love with a few stammering words.  In both instances the question comes: what do we see?

Someone suggested to me that as God knows what we really love, he uses these loves to waken us.

A friend, who was a student both of archaeology and of art history, was in grad school and found her first glimmer of longing for God’s light in a museum in Munich, when she saw a painting of a blue horse by Franz Marc.  It was only a momentary glimpse.  Years later, as her spiritual search truly began, the memory of that painting took her back to a long-forgotten childhood story of a girl led home by a horse.  Later, in a chapel in Taos, New Mexico, she was reawakened by a painting of Christ whose eyes followed her wherever she moved.  Across the years God used these glimpses to draw her to a greater love.

Francis Collins, the eminent scientist who heads the Human Genome Project, relates his own awakening in terms of both moral reason and revelation.  Brought up in a highly ethical but nonreligious family, he gave little thought to God until he was in his medical residency.  An older patient told him she could not have borne her illness without her faith and asked, “What do you believe in, doctor?”  He realized he had no answer, had given the question little thought.  Eventually the writings of C. S. Lewis convinced him that the universe has a moral imperative beyond himself, and his scientific explorations brought him to see DNA as part of “the language of God.”

The sense that God was reaching out to him came in an almost mystical experience while he was mountain climbing in the northwestern United States.  On a hillside he saw three streams rushing down the rocks and forming one great waterfall below.  To him it seemed a symbol of the Trinity – three in one!  That brought this man of science to his knees and his faith.

This, I believe, is the path of awakening: the God who loved us before we were born, in whom we live and move and have our being, reaches out to us in the ways he knows will best awaken the seed that has been planted in us from eternity.  As Paul told the philosophers on Mars Hill, God allots our times and places so that we will “search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:27).

The first step on the path to awakening may be simply to pray: “Lord, open my eyes, that I may see.”

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