Did my title get your attention? I hope it did, because I’d like to say a few words about attention today.
First your ability to pay attention is one of your greatest gifts. To be able to focus on another person, a story, or a specific task at hand is an important asset we sometimes take for granted. Ask teachers who work with children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Their teachers will tell you that these children often struggle to pay attention even for a few minutes.
Secondly, notice how in English we say pay attention. There’s always a cost involved
in paying attention. It means if we give our full attention to this thing, then we can’t be paying attention to that thing. Paying attention entails self-discipline. Just watch baseball players at bat, how they are totally focused on seeing the ball. They don’t allow anything (a heckling fan, a sudden gust of wind, a yell from the opposing team’s dugout) to distract them from the one thing they are paying attention to: that baseball being thrown at them.
Thirdly, there are countless things vying for our attention every minute of every day. Television advertisers know this. That’s why they go to great lengths just to get our attention and then they try to keep our attention for 30 seconds or so. Why such great pains? Because they’re trying to get us to buy their product, vote for their candidate, or support their cause. In order to do this, they have devised ingenious ways to get our attention. They use cute children, talking lizards, quacking ducks, beautiful scenery, or catchy music. If that fails, then they SHOUT AT US!!! (God bless the person who invented the mute button!)
What does paying attention have to do with our Christian faith? A lot! In one way we can say that Jesus came to focus our attention on the important aspects of life such as prayer, loving relationships, personal integrity, compassion, forgiveness, trust in God. How often he said to his disciples and to the crowds, “Behold!” That’s simply another way of saying, “Pay attention!” Pay attention to the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air. Pay attention to this story I am about to tell you. Pay attention to the poor, the sick, and the marginalized among you.
The artist Julie Cameron said that paying attention “is an act of love, an act of connection.” Many great writers, she says, lived ordinary and limited lives. “What was unlimited was the quality of attention they brought to bear on their experience.” The French writer, Simone Weil, would agree. She wrote: “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, then something like revelation takes place.”
Today might be a good day to pay attention to what you pay attention to. If you’re reading this blog, for example, then you decided to pay attention to this blog. Why? Other questions for reflection might be these:
+ Do you pay attention to the beauty and wonders of creation?
+ Do you pay attention to the poor, sick, and marginalized among us?
+ Do you pay attention only to peoples’ shortcomings, or do you notice their good points too?
+ Do you pay attention only to what’s wrong in the world or in your personal life, or do you pay attention to what’s right and good?
+ Do you pay attention regularly to God in prayer?
Jose Ortega y Gassel said this about paying attention: “Tell me what you pay attention to, and I will tell you who you are.” Now, that’s something to pay attention to!
Today’s song is “And All the People Said Amen” by Matt Maher. The video shows several individuals paying attention to others…
What are your thoughts on this topic and/or this song?
PS: I wrote this reflection before the tragic events in Minnesota, Dallas, and elsewhere in the U.S. Let us pray for the victims and their loved ones. And let us pay attention to the underlying causes of this unrest and violence, asking God for peace—in our own hearts, our families, our neighborhoods, our countries, our world.