ATTENTIVENESS: My Personal Daybreak by Leighton Ford
Discerning God’s Presence in All Things
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 during a revival meeting in his midteens, and he can cite exactly the date, time, and place where it happened.
For many others the first light is less like sudden lightning and more like gradual lightening – the almost imperceptible coming of sunrise. This is true of Billy’s late wife, Ruth, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to China. Ruth could not remember a time when she did not believe. Billy has mused that perhaps God led him to a wife whose experience was different from his so that he would remember that not everyone is converted suddenly at a revival meeting.
Some awaken in the drama of a Damascus Road encounter, others on the quiet journey of an Emmaus Road. These latter are like the grieving followers to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection as they walked to Emmaus; they recognized him as he talked with them on the way and broke bread with them after they arrived.
For me it was a combination of both, but perhaps more like the sunrise.
Several years ago I went for a first meeting with my friend David, whom I was asking to be my spiritual director. The notion of a spiritual director may be strange to you, suggesting an expert who knows all the answers and tells us what to do. A genuine spiritual director actually does just the opposite. He or she, through discerning questions and suggestions, helps us to pay closer attention to what God is saying to us and perhaps points to things we have missed. David himself prefers to think of himself as a “spiritual friend” or companion on the journey.
At the end of that first session, David suggested a follow-up reflection: to consider what has been my image of God and how that image was formed. Indeed our image of God affects our understanding not only of God but of what we are created to be: men and women made in God’s image and called to be transformed into a new image – to reflect the new “icon” of God displayed in Christ our Lord.
Almost inevitably our image of God is intertwined with the first influences of our lives, especially those of our family members, influences that come during the stage when our identity is being formed. I think of a young Korean American minister I met with at a mountain retreat. He recalled a day when he came home from school eager to tell his father what had happened there. His father briefly put down his newspaper, glanced up, made a short comment, and went back to his paper. “I felt so ignored,” this young man told me, “that I vowed I would never again tell my father anything that really mattered to me. And to this day I have not done so.”
He began to weep. He cried in my arms for thirty to forty minutes, until my shirt was soaked and he was utterly exhausted. It was no wonder that he had had a difficult time finding a personal and caring relationship with God.
After my first session with David, my spiritual companion, I took time to think back on my family beginnings and the “first light” of my spiritual life. I wrote out three full pages of “pictures” of God, how I saw God at various stages of my life, and where these were rooted (or not!) in the stories of the Bible.
Three early mental images seemed to stand out among others: a special place in our home where my mother taught me to pray, a walk in the park where I learned I was adopted, and the figure of an absent father.
It was important for me to reflect on these images and how they were formed. For as I reflected I realized how early I had learned not to be too attentive.
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