The Attentive Life

ATTENTIVENESS: Love As Focused Attention by Leighton Ford

March 14, 2019

From The Attentive Life What difference can Prime make as we begin and go through our days?  When Jesus spoke of abiding, it was all about loving obedience, being loved by him and loving others as he loved us.  We might describe love – whether the love is that of friendship or of lovers or of compassion – as focused attention. In friendship, out of a potential universe of candidates, we select (or have selected for us, as Augustine said, in a kind of “divine lottery”) certain ones on whom we focus time and attention.  In the practice of attentiveness we are able to see and be blessed by the beauty of the friend. In married love we pledge to each other that singular attention signified in the Biblical word cleaving – [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: A Life Of Continual Conversation by Leighton Ford

March 7, 2019

From The Attentive Life When I consider these three important words, I confess I feel just a bit bewildered.  If contemplation (seeing life in the presence of God), abiding in Christ, and Christ’s indwelling me are so important, how do they operate in my everyday life? How do I take these wonderful concepts and translate them into my own “prime time”? It helps me to think of “abiding” as a continual conversation in which I listen for God’s voice and speak back to him.  The late Henri Nouwen said that to “pray without ceasing” would be impossible if it meant that we did nothing but think and speak constantly about God.  To pray unceasingly is not to think about God rather than other things, or to talk to God instead of to [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: What Is Meant By Indwelling? by Leighton Ford

February 28, 2019

From The Attentive Life One who has spoken compellingly about “indwelling” as the way we know almost everything is the late Hungarian scientist/philosopher Michael Polanyi.  Already a world-class physicist, in the 1930s Polanyi turned his attention to the philosophy of science. In his influential book The Tacit Dimension he told of a conversation he had with a leading Soviet scientist who said that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics saw science as useful only to advance socialism by rationally conceived five-year plans.  Polanyi was dismayed at the limits of this version of how scientists work and how it overlooked the powerful role of intuition. Polanyi envisioned science as an “indwelling” of what the scientist tacitly [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: What Does It Mean To Abide? by Leighton Ford

February 21, 2019

From The Attentive Life If to contemplate means to look at life in the presence of God, to see with fresh-washed eyes, then how do I stay in touch during this day, and all the days of my life? Princeton scholar Robert Wuthnow has suggested that the current interest in “spirituality” takes two forms.  One is a kind of free-floating, rootless fascination with all things “spiritual.”  The other he characterizes as “abode-oriented” – finding a home in centuries-old practices and grounded in the realities of daily life. Abode immediately suggests abiding, and abiding is vital to Christian spirituality.  Our imagination may dance like the waving branches of a tree, but our reality must be as grounded as the trees I saw growing [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: What Does It Mean To Be Contemplative? by Leighton Ford

February 14, 2019

From The Attentive Life For many of us when we hear the word contemplative, we think of a monk, sitting for hours, eyes closed, hands folded, lost to the world around.  Of course such a monk is indeed a contemplative.  But the idea of being contemplative is much bigger. Contemplate is a two-part word, compounded from the Latin con (meaning “with”) and templum (temple), thus to observe things within a special place, and especially to observe in the presence of a deity.  So a contemplative is one who looks at life in the presence of God, or we might say with the eyes of God, or through the eyes of Christ – at any time, not just at special times; anywhere, not just in certain places; toward anyone, not just “special” people. [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Prime Time by Leighton Ford

February 7, 2019

From The Attentive Life Our Root System Prime is that hour of the day when we pray not to get it over with, but to make everything a prayer. (David Steindl-Rast) We pray the work. (Mother Teresa) One of my fond memories of Mepkin Abbey is of a monk on a rickety old bicycle, his robe flapping around him, pedaling off toward his morning duties in the vegetable garden.  Others were headed for their tasks in the kitchen, the library, or the gift store.  It was off to work for them after observing Prime, the hour of deliberate beginning of the day. Prime has been called, “the drum roll of the day,” a reminder to work not just to get it over with but for its own sake.  Too often we rush into things and hurry through them, and Prime [...]

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

January 31, 2019

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 [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Practicing Attentiveness; First Thoughts by Leighton Ford

January 17, 2019

From The Attentive Life C. S. Lewis said that when he first woke, thoughts came rushing in like a thousand wild animals all clamoring for attention. I understand that! So I have tried (and am still trying) to let my first thoughts – or at least some of my first thoughts – be toward God.  For example, on awaking I often pray parts of Psalm 25: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (vv. 1-2, 4-5) For a while I had those words taped to the mirror in my bathroom to read as I shaved.  (I also had them taped to the windshield of my car for a time, until a worried [...]

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 [...]