Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.
-Romans 8:5b-6 (The Message)
Have you gazed out the window this past week? If you were looking around, you would have seen a slight greenish hue beginning to cover brown bushes in the woods. And the ground is opening up, ever so slightly, for the daffodils to look around and alert us to the impending burst of color.
The other day one of our kids glanced out the window and yelled, "Hey, look!" I thought there was a fox or a deer running past quickly. Turns out, it was a new wildflower that had just opened up that afternoon!
This is the time to pay attention to the natural world. Life is emerging, and if we are looking for it, we will be surprised by beauty over and over again. It's almost resurrection season, when seemingly dead things come to life, reminding us that there is always more going on than what we see or assume. But you have to look around and pay attention.
"Paying attention" to Jesus is, unsurprisingly, central to a vibrant faith. But sometimes we view this attention as simply the means to an end. Author Mark Buchanan recounts a story during his pastoral years when a man in his congregation came to him for counsel. "I know that God is trying to get my attention right now. I just haven't figured out what he wants my attention for. He must want me to do something."
Mark thought a moment. Then he replied, "Well, maybe God.... just wants your attention."
Maybe this is the deepest form of transformation: the giving of our attention. We become more like Jesus by noticing, all the time, God's sacred presence.
Attention like this is what God invites us into. It's restful and indulgent. Quietly sitting on the couch together. Not always accomplishing. Not always discussing. Just delighting in the peace of presence, and noticing that God is with us and among us. That sort of "being" is the foundation for a life of real depth and purpose (the "doing"). But don't move through it too quickly.
Already, as the Covid season begins to recede, many of our lives are picking up pace. In the coming months school commitments, church life, work, and social events will likely provide many opportunities for a fuller schedule. But remember: Busyness can make us stop caring about the things we care about. This is true of a busy schedule, a busy mind, or a busy heart.
No doubt, a full schedule can bring a lot of joy (I can't wait for summer), but in this emerging season of life, let us consistently notice the God who has been with us each moment of the journey. The goal remains: pay attention.
"The Dream of my life," Poet Mary Oliver writes,
Is to lie down by a slow river
And stare at the light in the trees--
To learn something of being nothing
A little while but the rich
Lens of attention.
Jesus is the "rich lens of attention" by which we walk through our lives with a heart of rest, grace, and meaning.*
This is basic discipleship. When we are looking around the world through the lens of Jesus, our busyness will never be more important than God's presence. It will never be more important than hospitality. It will never be more important than interruptions. We will notice those in need around us and in our world, and respond.... because in those moments we're noticing the very face of Jesus himself. Eyes fixed on Jesus will always move us toward eyes of compassion for others.
This week seems to be as appropriate a week as any to start by living expectantly. So look around for Jesus. Rest in those moments of beauty without too quickly needing to do something with it all. Pay attention to the pain around you as well, so that you might not miss Jesus in the face of our sisters and brothers who suffer. Take time to love and be loved. Jesus is nearby. Pay attention today.
Jesus, both positive and negative things can distract me from your heart. Increase my awareness of you, over and over again, today.
*Special thanks to Mark Buchanan, whose ideas helped me pay attention for this week's writing.