The Attentive Life

ATTENTIVENESS: Awakenings by Leighton Ford

January 10, 2019

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 [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Beginning To Pay Attention by Leighton Ford

November 18, 2018

From The Attentive Life Shortly after I turned fourteen, in the winter of 1945, my mother left home.  Where she had gone and why was a mystery to me.  Many years later, I learned from one of my professors that she suffered from the mental disorder we call paranoia and that she lived with many fears. My mother was gone for months.  She chose to go to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she lived in disguise and under an assumed name.  That June, World War II ended, and that summer I came to attention as never before. Mother had returned in late spring.  She became interested in a new Bible conference that a local businessman was starting a few miles away on the St. Claire River.  We began attending sessions there, and some nights I stayed over [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Learning To Be Inattentive by Leighton Ford

November 9, 2018

From The Attentive Life Attentiveness is a learned practice; so is inattentiveness.  I learned to be selectively inattentive, and the roots of my inattentiveness go back to my childhood. I grew up in Chatham, Ontario, a few miles north of Lake Erie, surrounded by the farmlands of southwestern Ontario – near the places in Canada where you can look north to the United States!  Several years ago I took our grown daughter Debbie to my old hometown.  It was October, and as we drove down Victoria Avenue, the trees that gave Chatham the nickname, “the Maple City,” were blazing with fiery fall colors.  At the corner of Gladstone and Victoria the old two-story white frame house where we lived until I was in my early teens is stills [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: My Personal Daybreak by Leighton Ford

November 3, 2018

From The Attentive Life If Lauds is the time of first light, and spiritually the time of awakening to God, how does that awakening come to us? For some the “first light” comes with the sudden startling flash of a lightning bolt.  Paul is the classic example.  On his way to hunt down and arrest the followers of Christ in Damascus, he was struck down by a blinding light and was himself arrested by the appearance of Jesus, who asked, “Why are you persecuting me?”  Equally dramatic is the story of the young Martin Luther, weighted down by an agonized conscience, jolted to repentance when a lightning storm burst on him and almost literally knocked him off his horse.  My brother-in-law Billy Graham experienced a sudden conversion [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Daybreak—The Hour Of Beginnings by Leighton Ford

October 20, 2018

From The Attentive Life Oh! morning at the brown brink eastward, springs because the Holy Ghost, over the bent world broods with warm breast and ah! bright wings. (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”)   Each one is a gift, no doubt, mysteriously placed in your waking hand or set upon your forehead moments before you open your eyes. (Billy Collins, “Days”) Lauds comes just before dawn, as the first light begins to finger into the day.  It is the hour that takes us from darkness into light – into the time of awakening to the day, to life, to God. At Mepkin Abbey, Lauds begins at 5:30 a.m.  As the redbirds and field creatures along the Cooper River are beginning to stir, the cowled monks and their guests make their way [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: One Who Paid Attention—Vincent Donovan by Leighton Ford

October 13, 2018

From The Attentive Life The Masai Chief, the Missionary, and the Lion God Vincent Donovan went as a missionary to the Masai people of East Africa.  He went to teach them the story of God, but instead he found them teaching him. Once he told them how God had led the nomadic Abraham to see that he was the God of all peoples and not just of one tribe.  Could it be, he asked, that they had worshiped this High God without knowing him – the truly unknown God? There was silence.  Then someone asked a question.  “This story of Abraham – does it speak only to the Masai?  Or does it speak also to you?  Has your tribe found the High God?  Have you known him?” Donovan was stumped.  He thought of how in France since the time of Joan of [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Practicing Attentiveness—Sleep by Leighton Ford

October 5, 2018

From The Attentive Life When we are sleep deprived, it is difficult to pay attention: to God, others, and ourselves.  According to the Harvard Health Review, a recent survey found that more Americans are sleeping less than six hours a night, and sleep difficulties visit 75 percent of us at least a few nights per week.  And it reported that sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, and the inability to be attentive. Younger ministry leaders often come to Charlotte for a several-day retreat.  When I advise them to take both long walks and lots of naps, they usually look surprised.  But they are almost instantly relieved, because all of them come very tired.  They are so constantly wound up that they become worn down.  When we [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Vigils Is Over—Sleepy Reflections At Mepkin Abbey by Leighton Ford

September 29, 2018

From The Attentive Life My alarm goes off at 3:00 a.m.  I wake, close my eyes again a moment, then get up, lest I sleep in and miss the last Vigils of my retreat here at Mepkin Abbey.  I dress without showering, brush my teeth and dab my wild hair with a bit of water, put on cap and windbreaker and step into the cool outside. The moon is round and full as I walk toward the main buildings.  Stars shine clearly and I whisper, “How excellent in all the Earth is thy name, O Lord.” Vigil Voices a distant train an early waking bird whistling crickets tiny feet brushing by bushes chants of praying men a word of God for Joseph (and me) these are the voices of Vigils. (Mepkin Abbey, March 19, 2002) A brief stop in the dining room for a [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Our Family Stories by Leighton Ford

September 15, 2018

From The Attentive Life As different as our personal family histories may be, they still are a good place to start paying attention. Here is one question my family story leads me to ask: Was I “conceived in sin” as an old translation of Psalm 51:5 says?  Or was it love?  I believe the latter, for I have read enough of my biological mother’s journal to know how deeply she cared then for Tom, my father. Further, I was chosen in love by my adoptive mother, Olive Ford, but I was twelve years old before I knew this.  My mother took me for a walk in High Park in Toronto and told me, “We did not have to have you, we chose to have you.”  Although I was fairly old to be learning of my adoption, so far as I remember I felt neither hurt [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: The Labyrinth by Leighton Ford

September 7, 2018

From The Attentive Life Have you ever walked a labyrinth?  For many years I thought that a labyrinth was simply a kind of puzzle to solve.  Then I heard that a labyrinth “prayer walk” would take place at one of our local churches.  I decided to go, mostly out of curiosity. When I arrived, on the floor of the gathering room was a very large canvas on which had been embroidered a circular design that at first glance looked like some sort of Chinese maze.  Our leader for the day explained that the labyrinth was neither a game nor some New Age fad.  It is a pattern embedded in the floor of an ancient cathedral in Chartres, France. The labyrinth, she explained, is very different from a maze.  Mazes are games meant to bewilder and [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: The Birthing Hour—Time Before Time by Leighton Ford

September 1, 2018

From The Attentive Life Whom should I turn to, if not the one whose darkness is darker than night, the only one who keeps vigil with no candle, and is not afraid. (Rainer Marie Rilke) For darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:12-13) Vigils is the womb of silence, the darkest hour. (David Steindl-Rast) In the cycle of hours, Vigils, also known as Matins, is the first prayer time of each day.  At Mepkin Abbey by the Cooper River in South Carolina, where I first spent several days at a monastery, Vigils takes place at 3:20 a.m.  The bending live-oak trees at Mepkin remind me of monks in their white habits, stooping a bit as they walk silently through the chilly [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: One Who Paid Attention—Simone Weil On A Postage Stamp by Leighton Ford

August 17, 2018

From The Attentive Life Expectant waiting is the foundation of the spiritual life. (Simone Weil) I owe a debt to Simone Weil.  The first time I heard of this remarkable French woman, some years ago, I read that she had defined prayer as attention.  Her understanding of attentiveness was fresh and intriguing to me. Weil died in England in 1943 at the age of thirty-three, yet left an ongoing influence in France and beyond as an apostle of the spiritual life.  Many French people, including the existentialist writer Albert Camus, were deeply moved by her life and writings. Simone Weil became a believer in Christ after a profound experience that gave birth to her understanding of attentiveness.  A young Englishman had introduced her to a [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Practicing Attentiveness—What Have Been The Stars In Your Journey? by Leighton Ford

August 10, 2018

From The Attentive Life The wise men followed the star that led them to Bethlehem and to Jesus.  Writer Anne Lamott describes the “lily pads” – the people, incidents, life happenings – that point her to God.  A friend of mine speaks of the “clues” to how God is at work in our lives.  Others think of them as steppingstones. In this book I describe some of those key people, events, and stages in my own life.  My spiritual mentor suggested that I write down what the “images” of God have been for me as I have become more and more conscious of his presence.  They range from “Jesus in my heart” as a five-year-old to the picture of a tree I climbed in college when I was feeling overwhelmed and needed a safe place.  For [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Attentiveness And Advent—Landmarks And Skylights by Leighton Ford

August 3, 2018

From The Attentive Life No one lasts in the desert without constant attentiveness to exterior and interior landscapes alike.  One must keep an eye out for landmarks. (Belden Lane) It is Advent as I write, the time of waiting for Christ to come to us again.  For one group in Biblical times, Advent meant a long journey across a far desert to come to the light. They came from a far country, these travelers.  They came because they had paid attention not so much to landmarks as to a skymark – a most unusual coming together of three Heavenly bodies: a star known by these ancient people as Sharu (the Babylonian word for “king”) aligned with Jupiter and Venus. This mysterious event in the eastern sky connected with their own interior [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Stepping Into Attentiveness by Leighton Ford

July 13, 2018

From The Attentive Life Is attentiveness a gift to use? an art to practice? a work to perform?  It seems to include some of all three.  But it is certainly a call of God, and it is the call and practice that I myself hope to awaken to, more and more, in the writing of this book. Agnes Cunningham, a writer and teacher, discovered as a thirteen-year-old in her first year of high school that she had an unusual ability to listen.  One of her classmates had given a report about which Agnes was assigned to write an essay.  Later her English teacher summoned her to explain how she had been able to give an almost word-for-word version of what her classmate said.  Had she copied it from her paper? “I just listened to what she was saying,” [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Can We Learn To Be Attentive? by Leighton Ford

June 29, 2018

From The Attentive Life Some people seem to be born with a special “attentiveness quotient.”  Great athletes are gifted in this way.  Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest baseball hitter of all time, was immensely endowed with athletic vision.  He allowed that hitting a baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports.  Yet at the height of his career with the Boston Red Sox, his eyesight was so legendary that it was claimed he could see the seams on a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball!  Some physicists who have studied batting pooh-pooh this, saying it is impossible.  Yet one sportswriter said that trying to get a fastball past Ted Williams was “like trying to get a sunbeam past a rooster.” Take another fabled figure, [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The Qualities Of Attentiveness by Leighton Ford

June 22, 2018

From The Attentive Life Poets, writers, artists, naturalists all help us to understand what it means to “attend” and teach us that we can think of attentiveness in many ways. Being fully present in the moment.  “Simple attention to the present.  In these moments of attention to the present, each moment stands alone and becomes a visitation, a presence in its own right.” Looking long enough.  “If one looks long enough at almost anything, looks with absolute attention at a flower, a stone, the bark of a tree, grass, snow, a cloud, something like revelation takes place.  Something is ‘given,’ and perhaps that something is always a reality outside the self.” Looking freshly at what is familiar.  Harvard naturalist [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—Welcoming God’s Attention, Or Not by Leighton Ford

June 15, 2018

From The Attentive Life There are people whose attentions we resent because they are very annoying.  And it may be that sometimes we resent God’s attentions not so much out of a reasoned denial of his existence as from a deep instinctive refusal to conform to what we perceive as some kind of celestial busybody who tries to run everyone else’s affairs. Simon Tugwell is a British scholar who has a deep understanding of how our imaginative “cramps” – our pictures of God – affect our belief, or lack of it.  He remembers from his childhood an old Book of Common Prayer with a picture of Guy Fawkes trying to sneak a bomb into the Houses of Parliament.  At the top of the picture was an enormous eye watching him.  Here was an image [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—What Would It Be Like If God Did Not Pay Attention? by Leighton Ford

June 8, 2018

From The Attentive Life What if he did withdraw it from us?  G. K. Chesterton suggested that the sun rises over and over again because God is enjoying it so much!  Suppose his mind wandered and he forgot what time it was, and sunrise and sunset did not happen? What if God simply got bored with the banality of our evil and overlooked seedtime and harvest?  Or if he got distracted with the other billions of planets and forgot when it was our time to be born?  Or to die? One night when David the shepherd king could not sleep, with the weight of his nation on his shoulders and his soul, he lay awake remembering the long nights out in the fields when he was a boy watching to protect the flocks from wolves.  Perhaps that night he composed [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The Mindfulness Of God by Leighton Ford

June 1, 2018

From The Attentive Life 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. 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. Later he does wash the whole world he made with a flood.  But even [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The God Who Attends To Us by Leighton Ford

May 25, 2018

From The Attentive Life 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 [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: The God Who Pays Attention by Leighton Ford

May 13, 2018

From The Attentive Life Friends (and some not-so-friendly persons) are always emailing stuff that I didn’t ask for and usually don’t want.  Most often I just hit delete.  But one forwarded message insisted I pull it up.  In astonishment I watched “The Power of Ten,” a series of images showing our galaxy from the most distant reaches to one of the tiniest particles of our Earth. Beginning with images of the Milky Way ten million light-years from the Earth, it moved through space in successive leaps through our solar system to the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, to our Earth and the Western Hemisphere, down to the southeastern United States and to Tallahassee, Florida.  At Tallahassee it zoomed in to [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—Paying Attention To The Other by Leighton Ford

May 4, 2018

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 [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—Pay Attention by Leighton Ford

April 27, 2018

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 [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—An Invitation To Practice The Hours by Leighton Ford

April 20, 2018

From The Attentive Life Observing the hours can be a helpful practice for us in learning to pay attention to God throughout our days.  Further, the hours can also be an illuminating way to reflect on the seasons or passages of our lives.  I invite you to explore with me as we pay attention to how God has been and is at work in each of the “hours” we have lived. Our word hour goes back to the Greek word, hora, which, David Steindl-Rast points out, originally meant more than a unit of time. It was “not a numerical measure,” he writes, “but a soul measure.”  Isn’t it true that we usually think of the seasons of the year less in terms of the dates they begin and end than in terms of their effect on us: the cold of winter, the [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The Hours Of Our Lives (The Benedictine Hours) by Leighton Ford

April 13, 2018

From The Attentive Life Matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline – that your hours will pierce me with arrows and sounds of praise. (Luci Shaw) Time is not our enemy, nor is it a hostile place from which we must flee. It is a meeting place, a point of rendezvous with God. (Dorothy Bass, Receiving the Day) Seven times a day do I praise you. (Psalm 119:164) Long centuries ago a young poet recorded praise to God that rose up in his heart seven times a day.  We can surmise that he was young, because the very long psalm he wrote (the longest of all the psalms) records the longing of a young man to keep his way pure by paying attention to the words of God. Could it be that this young poet, like David the shepherd boy, was an [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: An Introduction —Short Flights And Quick Returns by Leighton Ford

April 7, 2018

From The Attentive Life I am sitting on a bench at Lost Lagoon, on the edge of the hundreds and hundreds of acres of trees and trails that make up the vast Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada.  Behind me are the tall buildings of the city.  Surrounding the park on three sides are the waters of English Bay and Burrard Inlet.  In the background, clouds hover over the mountains that slope down to frame Vancouver – my favorite city in the world, at least to visit. For much of the past decade and a half I have been coming here for a summertime pilgrimage.  I call it a pilgrimage not because Vancouver is such a holy place but because I can get away from my usual routines and hopefully resharpen my attentiveness and imagination. It is a lazy [...]