ForAtte 08-09-131 

The Attentive Life

Discerning God's Presence in All Things


Leighton Ford

InterVarsity Press, 2008, 225 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3516-4



Leighton Ford, brother-in-law to Billy Graham, served as an evangelist with the Billy Graham Association for many years.  He heads Leighton Ford Ministries which helps young leaders worldwide to lead more like Jesus.  The book is about learning to pay attention to the 'hours' of our lives, whether of a single day or the stages of our lives. The author describes some of the steppingstones--key people, events and life stages--that God has used in his own life. 


"The deepest longing I have is to come home to my own heart…to bring my real self before the real God, to be changed into his true image, to become all that God has made me to be." (flyleaf) 



An Introduction

"My work has largely focused on evangelism--'making friends for God'….  But now is a time to pay more attention to my own heart, to deepen my own friendship with God…." (10)


"We should all be explorers, always, in all things."  "Each of us is part of a Greater Story, and behind our stories is a Storyteller calling us home."  "I believe all our stories are of longing and of looking." (11)


"Often we keep ourselves busy and distracted because we fear that if we slow down and are still, we may look inside and find nothing there." (12)  "I need to learn both to be still and to go (or grow) deeper."  "…this life stage requires not so much doing for God as paying attention to what God is doing." (13)


1.  Paying Attention - The Hours of Our Lives.

This books looks at the hours of our lives, either hours of the day or the seasons of life.  It follows the Benedictine prayer hours: Vigils (about 3 a.m.), Lauds (beginning of the day), Prime (start of the work day), Terce (mid-morning), Sext (midday), None (mid-afternoon), Vespers (evening comes), and Compline (end of the day).


The attentive life is the contemplative life, meaning putting together or connecting the dots, including both the passing of time and the times of turning points.  Attentiveness is difficult because we are distractible people in a distracting world. (23)  We often miss God's "signs" because we are busy with stuff. (24)  Attentiveness is opening ourselves to what we are being shown or told. (25)


During our darkest hours God often gets our attention and teaches us to pay attention.  But He does not force his attentions on us. (34-5)  "The opportunity which God sends does not wake up him who is sleeping." (39 quoting a Senegalese proverb)


God calls us to see God in all things and all things in God. (41)


Love is focused attention.  Attentiveness is a gift and a discipline.  "But the gift must be nurtured through the spiritual discipline of discernment, a kind of 'eye-washing' in which we welcome the things that bring transparency and avoid those things that dull our vision." (43)


2.  The Birthing Hour - Time Before Time

"When we are sleep deprived, it is difficult to pay attention: to God, others and ourselves."  Sleep is a spiritual exercise, "because we are not just spiritual beings.  We are embodied spirits."  It is an expression of trust, admitting that we are not God and we can leave the universe in his care. (60-1)


3.  Daybreak - The Hour of Beginnings

"The first reality of day is that at dawn (and long before) God is paying attention to us.  He creates each new day of our life as a gift." (65) 


"Almost inevitably our image of God is intertwined with the first influences on our lives, especially those of our family members…." (67)  


4.  Prime Time - Our Root System

"What is the root system of my life?  Is it deep and wide and long and strong enough to withstand the pressures of each day?" (83) 


"The great irony of our wired age of communication is that many of our children are growing up information rich and imagination poor--and so are many adults." (84)  Have I lost the sense of imaginative wonder?  Am I too preoccupied with running to what is next?  (85) 


Abiding is a summons to stick with him on the way, wherever it leads.  "Inwardly, it is a ceaseless orientation toward Jesus, a constant looking to him, listening for his voice, seeking his ways." (88, quoting David Rensberger)  "It helps me to think of 'abiding' as a continual conversation in which I listen for God's voice and speak back to him." (92)


"Prime should be the time of listening first not to my needs and wants but to Jesus' words and directions." (93)


5.  Active Life - A Slower Pace in a Faster World

"We live in an age of continuous partial attention." (99, quoting Linda Stone) 


Terce is the marker of midmorning, time for a break.  In life, Terce is the time of discovering our mission and becoming involved in job, church and community.  (100) 


"In a world where there is a wealth of information, there is often a poverty of attention." (101, quoting Ken Mehlman)  We are in a state of overload.  "The assumption now is that you're always in…. And when you are always in, you are always on.  And when you are always on, what are you most like?  A computer server." (102, quoting Thomas Friedman)


"Perhaps in a faster world we could use a slower church--or at least churches that help us to slow down and pay attention." (104)  Perhaps those in the fast world can learn from those in the slow world.  There is a connection between our speed and the health of our spirit. (105)


Regarding the teaching of Martha and Mary, we all have parts of both in us and we are to pay attention to both action and contemplation. (107)


"Hurry is the great enemy of the life of the spirit."  "I suppose that most of us live more like tourists rushing to keep up with an itinerary than pilgrims drinking in the lands we are passing through.  We all, clergy and laity, get chewed up and distracted.  Most of us, if we are honest, are latter-day Marthas who deep inside are longing for some Mary time.  And what is the secret to living in such a world and time?  …the secret is not at the circumference (merely reducing our activities) but at the center (refocusing our heart)." (109-10)


"If the imagination of our heart is to be clear and pure, then we must allow space and time for the eyes of our heart to see through, under and beyond appearances, to answer the lure of the deep." (110)


"Attentiveness is much more than our attempt to see and understand; it is a species of faith, an open and receptive trust that God has much to reveal to us when we pay attention.  Some things reveal themselves, yield themselves, only to attentive waiting." (111)


"Spirituality is all about seeing.  It is becoming aware of realities in which we are immersed but of which we are unaware.  …Spiritual vision requires learning to notice the presence of God within and around us." (111, quoting Juliet Benner)


6.  The Noonday Demon - Our Distractible Selves

We can think of high noon as the midpoint of our life, college days, family life, vocation or project--when life tends to weigh us down. 


"Distraction is not always a bane.  It can be a blessing when distractions are 'divine interruptions' by which God gets our attention to turn us in a new direction." (116) To pay attention and learn from a distraction can be a strength.  Many Bible characters had a life change because of a distraction, e.g. Moses' Burning Bush.  (117)


Do we suffer from SADD, spiritual attention deficit disorder? (119) We may be in spiritual disarray because of fatigue, a soul-weary apathy, anxiety, fear, or sin.  These may be veils that keep us from paying attention.  (119-124)


"We keep on hurrying and staying busy and chattering because we are afraid that if we did slow down, stop working, get still long enough to listen deeply, we might have to face our mortality and humanness and give up trying to run our lives like little gods." (125)


A reminder: "Do one thing at a time, slow down, take time to breathe, to pray, to remember what has just happened with gratitude (or regret), to prepare my heart and mind for what comes next instead of rushing ahead with an overstuffed mind.  Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry."   (130)


"In some seasons of our lives, we are more active, more outwardly focused, more driven.  Hopefully as we grow older, there are seasons in which we become more reflective, moving from an action mode to a wisdom mode--assuming we have learned some wisdom from our actions, both good and bad." (139)


7. When Shadows Come - Darkness Comes Early

"None (pronounced with a long "o") marks mid- to late-afternoon time, as the sun begins its descent and shadows start to lengthen." "With None we encounter the reality that things don't last forever.  The lengthening shadows remind us of endings, but as the day wanes we also pay more attention to the things that endure." (141, quoting David Steindl-Rast)


"What must I let go?  What should I hold more closely?  And to what could I reach out more hopefully?" (143)  Life begins to cave in and losses begin to mount up.  "We begin to lose very precious things, and clouds hover over what we have always taken for granted: health, relationships, job." (143) 


"The true religions of America are optimism and denial." (143, quoting Kathleen Norris)


"I'm trying to learn to pay attention, to pause and ask: What makes these tears come?" (145)


"There are many deaths that we die throughout our life, suggests Rolheiser: the death of our youth, of our spiritual and psychological wholeness, our dreams and our honeymoons….  Yet these many deaths, some small, some huge, may be God's way of bringing transformation and new life." (146)  "…we must allow our spirit time--time to grieve the old, to be prepared to let go and receive the gift of the Spirit that we need for our new life." (147)


The dark times are often those of greatest growing and strengthening.  "What were your own darknesses and what did God reveal about himself in each of these?  What gifts did he give?"  Make your own list, naming if you can, the gifts you have received, the light that has reached you through those darknesses."  "God can transform both darkness into light and burden into blessing."  (149)


8. Lighting the Lamps - The House with Golden Windows

Vespers celebrates the lighting of the lamps as evening descends. (163)

There is a universal longing for home in almost every human heart. (165)  "In the seasons of our life, afternoons are the autumn, the season of midlife when the curve of our energy begins to drop.  Afternoon is also a time to rest and enjoy the fullness of what life has to offer, as well as to let go of regrets over what may have passed us by.  Yet it is a time not of retreat but of renewal, a time to explore and develop new and overlooked parts of ourselves." (166)  "This is most especially the time to make fresh room for God in our heart." (167)


The prayer of an old saint:

"I give Thee thanks, O Lord.  Evening draws nigh: make it bright.  For as day has its evening, so has life.  The evening of life is old age, and old age is fast overtaking me: make it bright….  Let the fast-coming close of my life be believing, acceptable, sinless, fearless: and, if it please thee, painless.  And let me outstrip the night, doing, with all my might, some good work." (169)


We seem to have a "holy longing" and "the desire that fuels our restlessness is at its core a longing for the God who made us for himself." (172)  "My soul is a strange mix of gratitude and restlessness.  I want--need--to be at rest in the goodness of God."  (174)  God has put in our hearts a sense of eternity, a foretaste of the next life. (177) 


9.  Grandfather Time - When Evening Comes

"Compline is the hour that signifies completion."  "Compline completes the circle of the day…connecting the end of the day with the end of life itself."  "Darkness comes often as a threat, but it can also be a grace." (183)


"As a day or a life come to a close, our most heartfelt questions may be Am I safe?  Am I loved?  Do I have a true home in this universe?" (183)


We now "seek to discern the hidden wholeness of our lives…and pay attention not so much to the ending as to the End…not so much to the way our life closes as to the purpose for which we were sent in the first place,…our True End." (190)


"The end of our lifelong journey and quest…involves a profound transformation, the emergence of our true self, so that in becoming like Christ we most truly become ourselves…." (193) 


Two questions before sleep:  "Where did I sense God most today?  Where did I miss him?"  (197)


"The destination is Christlikeness.  The wonder is not only that we will be like him but that when we are like him we will most truly be ourselves." (203)



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