ATTENTIVENESS: One Who Paid Attention—The Teacher Who Took Off His Hat by Leighton Ford

Discerning God’s Presence in All Things

One Who Paid Attention—The Teacher Who Took Off His Hat by Leighton Ford

From The Attentive Life

In seminary my Bible professor was Manfred George Gutzke, a Canadian like myself, who had an impressively large physique and had been the boxing champion of the Canadian Army in his youth.  Everything about him seemed oversized: his huge hairless head, his enormous eyebrows, his low gravelly voice, his sweeping knowledge of the scriptures.

Not only did he hold us spellbound with his grasp of the Bible; he also fascinated us with stories out of his own life, which he often told over a game of crokinole when he and his wife invited us students to spend an evening in their home.

Manfred Gutzke was a man of God, as well as a teacher of preachers, but he had not started out religious in any formal sense.  For many years he was an agnostic.  Yet in the years when he was teaching in a one-room rural school on the prairies of western Canada, he began to be a seeker, wondering whether there might be a God and he could know him.

He was especially impressed by a devout farmer who moved into that small community.  This man sold two cows and donated the proceeds to missionary work on the annual missions Sunday.  This was cause for amazement at the small prairie church, where most of the farmers came because there was nothing better to do on a Sunday morning.  Most of them stood outside and gossiped with their friends until long after the service began.  But this new man arrived carrying a Bible, went straight into the church and bowed his head in prayer.

Here was someone whose faith seemed central, and the young teacher was intrigued.

One afternoon after school, making his way across the fields to his boarding house, he was struck by this thought: If God exists, then he can see me right now!

“I stood in that field,” he told us, “and pondered that thought.  If God exists, he could see me.

“So,” he said, “I took off my hat!  That may seem strange, but like most men in those days I wore a brimmed hat, and I always took it off in the presence of women, older people, or other important persons.  So I took my hat off to God.

“And then I prayed: ‘God, I do not know whether you are there or not.  And I don’t mean anything bad by that.  I just don’t know.  But I want to know, and you know that too.  So please show me if you are real.”

“I felt,” he said, “as if something very important had happened.”

Then he put his hat back on and made his way home.

He had taken a first step toward his spiritual home that day.  For the very first time Manfred Gutzke paid attention to God – the God who was already paying attention to him.  And before much more time had passed, he would come to prove in his own life the affirmation of Jesus, “Seek and you shall find,” and the promise in Hebrews 11:6 of a God who “rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

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