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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.” (Mary Morrison)

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.” (May Sarton)

Looking freshly at what is familiar. Harvard naturalist Louis Agassiz once said that he had spent the summer traveling. Then he added that he only got halfway across his own backyard. Similarly, one summer while recovering from a heart “attack” I did not travel but spent much of my time doing a painting of my own backyard. It has become a reminder to me that I do not need to travel to see what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins saw: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”.

Being available. Attentiveness means a willingness to listen for God’s voice – and readiness to obey! Interestingly, as Henri Nouwen points out, our word audio comes from the Latin audire, which has the sense of “to obey” or “to heed”.

Adapted from The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford (2008, InterVarsity Press)

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