It’s the anthem of my school years... words which constantly echoed through the classroom as teachers tried to bring disinterested students back to the focus of the activity in hand. It is an anthem which I subsequently heard in many different contexts: crossing the road, reading a book, driving a car, engaging in conversation, and praying, to name a few. To pay attention is to be present in the moment - a struggle when our minds are focussed elsewhere, looking for what might be, or escaping from the present.
Our minds are bombarded with images of possibility, all designed to foment some level of discontent: advertising reminds us of (creates a sense of?) lack so that we might purchase; self-help gurus insidiously inform us that we are not OK in order that we might buy-in to whatever technique or product they are advocating; our culture is awash with images labelled as “improvement,” “development,” or “growth” – all subtly inviting us to leave the present and move into some imagined future.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Some suggest that we are people who are shaped by our dreams. But we are also called to be grounded in present realities – to be aware of the circumstances in which we live, and who it is that we are becoming. To be present to God is to live in the present moment – to be aware that God is active and alive in our midst. Jesus exhorted us to keep our focus in the present, assured by the fact that God carried our concerns and dreams in His heart (Mat 6:26-34), and to pay attention to the signs of the present, for they told of the purposes of God (Mat 16:3).
To pay attention is to take time: to listen – to the voices inside of us and around us, to watch, to breathe and to slow down. We live at such a pace that we are often tempted to lose contact with who we are and who God has called us to be, by our failure to pay attention.
The Advent Season carries with it the echoing reminder that, though God entered the world through the prophets of old, and ultimately through His Son, so many did not recognise His coming. This failure to pay attention came at a high cost.
December 10, 2006