Paying Attention

Paying attention is hard to do.

When I was a home-schooled first-grader, I would often get in trouble for being distracted.  My teachers (mom and dad) would talk about diligence and what it meant to be a hard worker.  My five year old self had a hard time connecting those concepts with penmanship, math, and spelling.  I remember feeling especially wounded when, in an attempt to keep me focused, they pulled the curtain closed in the window of our one room school-house.  It didn’t work though, because I just ended up staring at the patterns on the red and white checked curtains.

While there was some truth to my parent’s critiques, I don’t think that the whole problem was how easily I became distracted, or how I quickly became distracted from what I was supposed to be working on.  I think the problem was that I was aware that there was SO MUCH to pay attention to!

The clear blue Andean sky with clouds pouring in over the mountains every afternoon of the rainy season, turning from fluffy white cotton balls to grey, threatening monsters – Tubby the German Shepherd running and barking and chasing birds, just dying for me to come outside and join him in the joy of movement – Florencio the gardener planting new flowers next to the office building…  Every moment was pregnant with meaning, and surprises were just waiting to spring out of nowhere to thrill me – IF I was paying attention…

As I’ve grown older, it’s become that much harder to stop and really pay attention and see what is going on around me – in my own life, in the lives of the people I love the most, or even in nature and the people whose lives cross mine for the blink of an eye.  I get so focused on my agenda.  I am running late for work, or have to take care of errands, or am quickly running into the store to avoid getting wet.

And while I see the need for responsibility, sometimes we just need to stop and SEE what is going on around us – to let wonder transport us away from the ordinary, and let us see that the mundane is really extra-ordinary.  Sometimes we need to stop running, put away the umbrella, and let the rain soak through our clothes, trickle against our skin, and turn our eyes up to the heavens and experience the rain.  Splashing in puddles, watching the lightning dance upon the clouds, tasting the raindrops on your tongue – this is worship.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last week I came across an account of an experiment performed in 2007 in the Washington DC metro system.  During morning rush hour, a violinist opened his case, removed his violin, and began playing.  He played for over an hour and in that time frame only a handful of people stopped to listen.  Most ignored him, distracted by cell phones, iPods, minds lost in thought as they prepared for work and the demands of the day.  Only a few truly heard him and saw him for who he was – Joshua Bell, a world-famous musician who routinely sells out concert halls, playing some of the most difficult violin pieces composed on a Stradivarius worth 3.5 million dollars.  He was right there in front of them, but people couldn’t see him.

The most fascinating aspect of the story was the following:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away. ~ WP

I love how the children were able to recognize beauty.  I love that they had not yet lost their capacity for amazement.  And I wonder how we might go about becoming people who never lose (or regain) that sense of childlike wonder?  I wonder how we might become people who learn to see?  I wonder how we might learn how to pay attention?

Maybe if we could learn to see, we would recognize that the world is charged with the grandeur of the glory of God?  Maybe if we could pay attention, we could see the wonder that surrounds us?  …  maybe…

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

via JR Briggs



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3 responses to “Paying Attention

  1. Just one thing: ninjas NEVER run in the rain, Ben. Stand up and walk it, like a ninja.

    • Ben

      ninjas don’t get wet unless they want too either. true story.

      hmm… maybe it’s time to repost my ninja story that i wrote something like 8 years ago… it’s a good one – and honestly, who doesn’t love ninjas? they’re so cute and cuddly…

  2. this is good. very good. genuine. authentic. truth full. i like how you said when you were young, your problem wasn’t not paying attention, it was wanting to pay attention to everything. we should learn to be more like the kiddos^^

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