Parson to Person: Pay attention
It was a telling cartoon: the optician stood in front of his eye chart saying, “There’s nothing wrong with your eyes, Mrs. Jones — you’re just not paying attention!”
While preaching out of town recently, I found myself offering a pastoral prayer like this (yes, every now and then I write them down):
“Lord, tell me, why do preachers bother to pray aloud when they know that you are aware of our thoughts and feelings before we utter them? Fact is, you know a little too much about us for comfort… and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
We hear our Latin friends praying and singing, ‘Kyrie Eleison Christe Eleison.’ (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy).
“So again, Dear Lord, if you already know our hearts and minds, why do preachers pray out loud? Is it not for the same reason they preach aloud — hoping that eavesdroppers in church may ride piggyback on our words? Ah, but it’s a greased pig, for our minds wander more in the ‘long prayer’ than the sermon.
“If only, Dear Lord, we would spend one full minute of undivided attention on thee, we would not be attracted to swamis and gurus in the next town to get a fix. If we gave Christ such undivided attention we might find out why our evangelical friends say Christ is not just a belief but a personal experience.
“All this we pray in the name of Jesus who paid unusual attention to us. Amen.”
Phew! I’ve never quoted myself at such length in my whole life, but paying attention is the beginning of both faith and wisdom. The whole world clamors for our attention like a commercial without end. We simply have to be selective.
I’m told that a speaker, speaking to, of all things, a meeting of Siamese twins made the bad mistake of calling for their undivided attention. If any of you might be reading this by twos, may I call for the same.
After all, that’s it, isn’t it? We are not so much confused as distracted and eye charts pose no cure.
A first grader came and lisped to her mother that she needed what she called “weading glasses” because “Marwy and Barb’wa had weading glasses.”
So mother bought them, but when she picked up her little girl from school the glasses were missing. “They’re no help,” announced the girl. “I still can’t wead.”
Learning to pray is, after all, a lot like learning to read. A favorite scripture runs, “If with all thy heart ye truly seek me ye shall surely find me; thus saith the Lord.”
Or, to be brief, pay attention.