Cultivating Alert Attention: A Rationale

Far from a passive receptivity to whatever life throws my way, selfless openness calls for an alert attention to what is going on around me. It demands an awareness of what my five senses are picking up in the present circumstances and requires an active engagement with the world, especially the present moment and the situation in which I find myself.
--Albert Haase, "This Sacred Moment: Becoming Holy Right Where You Are"

There are several old men I admire in the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds me. One is a man who at seventy-five, an age when he could have expected to rest, to be self-focused, finally spending time doing the things he wanted to do and with plenty of money to rest comfortably, abandoned it all--friends, family, fame, and life on his own terms--to follow God's voice. Who does that? And, really, how loud does that voice have to be to be recognizable at a time in one's life when no one would fault you for staying home and doing your own thing? This kind of listening? This is alert attention. It is familiarity. This listener? I think he had been listening a long time. I think he had practice noticing God's presence, accepting God's presence and engaging God's presence. This kind of response? It is the response of the loved one who loves. He was just a man, of advanced age, when he left everything behind to follow God's voice. I bet many thought he was a crazy old man, since he didn't even know where he was going. But the where didn't matter. What mattered was that God had inclined Himself to whisper, "follow me." The Bible tells me that this man, Abraham, is the "father of us all," and this is the legacy he has left me. I, too, can learn to apply active attention to God's Presence.

My uncle was in his seventies when he heard God call him to China. He was thrilled by the challenge to preach the gospel in a place where it is illegal to do so using words. He loved his students and taught them English. His supervisor told me last month that there is an entire group of Chinese who speak English with their hands just like my Italian-American uncle.

I grew up listening to my uncle's sermons. One of my favorites is on the parable of the talents. The gist of his sermon is this: God uses this parable to teach us about His Kingdom. The talents referred to in the parable are money, but they also represent other things God gives us. This includes wealth and material items, but also giftedness, knowledge and experiences. We are to exercise dominion over every thing that God has given us. We are to steward it and steward it well. This is being alert to active engagement with world in this present moment. Perhaps stewarding wealth and material items are somewhat straightforward, but how do you steward experiences? Have you experienced a miscarriage? Can you come alongside someone enduring that heartbreak today? Have you experienced any kind of loss for which there are no words? Can you offer a wordless presence to someone now? Alongside the hard things, God has made an investment into our lives, He has buried a treasure. The hard things are hard. We are to tell the Truth, and we should call things by their true names. The hard things are hard. Some things are unspeakable. Alert attention assures me God is here. Living with alert attention gives me the opportunity to invest in those around me. This is the same as connecting with Jesus, as He identifies Himself always with "the least of these."

So, this is the race marked out for me: to live noticing God's Presence, and to be alert to the invitation to be with Him whether alone or in a crowd.