The Gift of Attention
written by Rev Gary Heard

The gift of attention is a rare one indeed. During the day we are assaulted with such a wide range of images and sounds that we are inured to them: relegating them to background noise, or viewed as wallpaper around us – mere covering to be taken for granted.

The Washington Post recently asked a violin virtuoso to ply his wares in the entrance of a busy subway. Joshua Bell is no ordinary violinist – punters pay over $100 to listen to him play in some of the most prestigious venues in the world. He had recently performed at the Boston Symphony Hall before appearing on the station concourse. The instrument he played was none other than an antique Stradivarius, worth a cool $3.5 million. In his allotted time, Bell played some of the most difficult pieces known for the violin, written by Bach, Schubert and others.

During the 43 minutes of his performance, over 1100 people passed by. Seven stopped to listen, most for a matter of moments. A total of $32 in donations was received. In the presence of a master, most people passed by without seeing.

We can all understand the distractions which kept people moving: they had appointments to keep, business commitments to uphold,  people to meet… their minds were filled with the day to come. On arrival home, they may have been asked whether anything special had happened during the day, and their response may well have been, “Na. Nothing special ever happens.”

Here, people passed by a violin virtuoso, not hidden, nor playing quietly. And they missed it.

But what of God?

How can we be attuned to the presence and still small whispers of God’s voice when our minds are tuned elsewhere? When did you last hear the voice of God? How about encountering His presence? When did God last reach out to grab your attention?

We can all be accused of being preoccupied and missing the voices of family and friends. How much more the voice of God? It is important that we recognise how often responsibility for the ‘absence of God’ falls within our own attention span. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God is never far from us: “The Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.” (Isa 59:2) God is never far from us.

“The one who has ears to hear,” said Jesus, “let them hear”. Are we listening?

May 20, 2007
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