Posts Tagged ‘attention’

A Lonely God

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9

Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden after eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the Garden, Adam, Eve, and God lived peaceably together with the rest of creation. After eating the forbidden fruit, they became self-conscious and felt exposed in their nakedness. They hid from God, presumably because they were ashamed. God calls out, “Where are you?”

One question from this allegorical story is this: If God is all-knowing, as it seems safe to assume, why could God not find Adam and Eve? I remember playing Hide & Seek when my children were young. They would hide while I counted to ten, and I always knew where they were hiding long before actually “finding” them. Here is where the story gets uncannily timely and personal. Perhaps the hiding done by Adam and Eve was not physical. Perhaps they were hiding their attention from God. Perhaps they were intentionally turning away from God. After all, our attention can only be given; it cannot be taken, not even by God.

Throughout the Bible, it is clear that God wants to be in relationship with us. An important part of any relationship is the willingness to give the other our attention. Attention is life-giving. We have all had experiences, however, when someone was physically present with us but not all there – their attention was elsewhere. In this age of smart phones and multitasking, it is common to attempt to converse with someone while they (or we) are texting or trolling someone else that is not physically present. It is annoying and inconsiderate. Sometimes, I want to ask, “Where are you?” when someone is standing in front of me looking at their phone. Unfortunately, I return the favor too often.

What motivates us to divide our attention away from those we are with in a given moment? Are we too busy? Are we not interested? Are we easily distracted? These are common maladies with so many seductive diversions readily available, inviting us out of the present. Adam responds to God’s question, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (3:10). Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, and we have been scapegoating others for our poor self-esteem ever since. Why were they suddenly afraid of God? Adam and Eve had changed. Instead of delighting in the beauty, abundance, and divine fellowship of the garden, they began seeing everything – including themselves – as good or evil, black or white, right or wrong, naked or clothed. Neither one was comfortable in God’s presence any longer, and the extension of the story is we are still uncomfortable today. A similar discomfort led society to crucify Jesus. God calls and we turn away. While we cannot turn God’s attention away from us, we can refuse to reciprocate by withholding our attention. In so doing, we miss the love, acceptance, and grace God willingly offers. When our nakedness is exposed, as it necessarily must be in God’s presence, we forget about our divine kinship, and we feel ashamed. In truth, it is our innocent nakedness that God most desires to receive.

There is a modern-day fable of a person having a near-death experience. Her spirit journeys to a wonderful place where she finds herself in the presence of God. What she experiences is pure, unsullied love. She feels a call back to her body, however, and just before returning, she asks God if there is a message to bring back to her earthy companions. God says, “Yes, tell them I miss them.”

A lonely God desires your attention. Where are you?

Note: this is the fourth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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 Compassionate Emptiness

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

 Most days, my life is very full. I wake up early, eat breakfast, and read the newspaper. I drive to work and enter a whirlwind of meetings, phone calls, emails and, well, work. In the late afternoon, I drive home, where there is yet more to be done. Evenings go by in a flash until I can no longer hold my eyes open. I fall into bed, exhausted. Many of the people I know feel the same way. With such full lives, how can we make room for anything beyond the urgent, pressing demands of the moment? Unfortunately, many things of critical importance will not demand our attention, such as spending quality time, in sufficient quantities, with our children and our spouses. Spirit-building activities like spending time with God in prayer, contemplating scripture, and immersing ourselves in silence, are among the common casualties to a busy life. That which seems urgent will crowd out that which is truly important, unless we are intentional about our priorities. We may not realize what is of greatest value in our lives until we find ourselves in crisis.

Even when we make time for others, we are often so distracted that we are never actually present with them. When our minds are occupied by reports to write, phone calls to return, and the image we present to others, we are unable to fully attend to the emotional needs of those most important to us. We may hear the words they say, yet never catch the feelings behind the words. If my cup is already full, how do I make time for others? How do I put myself in a position for God to speak to, or to influence me? To truly listen to another means I am willing to be influenced, willing to allow my mind to be changed. If we cannot sufficiently empty our minds to allow new ideas and insights to enter, we close ourselves off from being influenced, improved, or blessed by others. At the same time, we deprive others of the opportunity to be blessed by us.

I first heard the term Compassionate Emptiness in a class on Servant Leadership. The context was that we must empty ourselves of all distractions, worries, and thoughts in order to be fully attentive to, and to understand what is on the mind or heart of another. That type of emptiness is compassionate because others desire and deserve our full attention. In the context of our relationship to God, we must empty ourselves for God’s love and compassion to enter us. Either way, emptiness is a prerequisite for compassion.

Come home to church this Sunday. Empty yourself and be filled!

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