09 February 2010

Meditation: "Paying Attention"

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11b-13)

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. (Exodus 24:15-17)

Theophany (noun): An appearance of God to a human or to a group of people, as with the burning bush to Moses (Exod 3:4) or the pillar of cloud or fire leading the people (Num 14:14).

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Dear Friends,

Are you driven to distraction?

On Frontline last week there was a report about the changes happening in society because of the digital revolution. Even in my lifetime, I've seen a huge shift with the rise of personal computers and the emergence of an incredible array of digital gadgets. This particular program was about the ever shrinking attention span of young adults as they, more than any generation before them, have learned to multi-task with an iPod in one hand, a cell phone in the other, and a laptop open before them. As it turns out, fewer and fewer people have the power of concentration and an ability to deeply focus on one task or thought for any length of time.

I include myself in this. More than I care to admit I will try to do at least two things at once--say, talk on the phone and read email. At home, it's often three or more things at once as I add children into the mix! But there have been times, very deliberate moments, when I have realized that I am driving myself to distraction. There are times when I am acutely aware that I need to intentionally set all of it aside and just focus and pay attention. To what? At the least, anything other than the beeping phone, the flashing email, and the ten other things I was just doing at once!

This matters to me because I don't want to live a distracted life. I want to live a focused life, a life that is attuned to the presence of God in and through all things. I believe that God does indeed reveal Godself to us. But in my experience, full-blown theophanies (see definition above) are extremely rare. In my experience, God does not thunder and shake the earth and burst things into fire as is so vividly described in the Hebrew scriptures (and not meant to be taken literally). Rather, God tends to reveal Godself quietly and subtly. If we aren't able to pay attention, to really concentrate or focus, then how will we hear the still, small voice of God? (This, of course, is what contemplative Christians and practitioners of meditation have understood for ages.) If we are so distracted by the incredible volume of information instantaneously available to us on our computer, by the sensory overload of mp3s and the internet and HDTV, how capable will we be of perceiving the less spectacular, quieter manifestations of God?

I'm pondering how I can take this further in my own life. Maybe, instead of fasting or giving up chocolate or coffee during Lent, I'll "fast" from all electronics for a day. And not just fast, but pay attention--to God, to my life, to the Spirit of God moving in the world around me.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: God of the sound of sheer silence, each day grant me the will to set aside the distractions and focus my heart and mind on you--even for just a few minutes. Amen.

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