Advent DevotionalA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

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Quotations I love: Four quotations about attention

Thursday November 24 2016

Quotations I love: Four quotations about attention

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”—Simone Weil

I’ve used Simone Weil’s words often when I write or teach about listening. When we listen well, we are paying attention to another person’s priorities, values, feelings and thoughts.

The notion of paying attention includes listening, but attention matters in many other areas of life.

“Can one reach God by toil? He gives himself to the pure in heart. He asks for nothing but our attention.”—William Butler Yeats

This Yeats quotation is wonderful to ponder, journal about or discuss in a group. What does it look like to pay attention in the way Yeats is describing here? I bet a group could list a couple dozen ways, including paying attention to what God is doing in the lives of the people around us, noticing answers to prayer, and being attentive to the ways God speaks to us through nature, the Bible, our conscience and other people.

I would also love to discuss with a group the connection Yeats highlights between purity of heart and paying attention. How are purity of heart and paying attention related?

“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”—Mary Oliver

Maybe Mary Oliver’s words illuminate the connection between purity of heart and attention. To pay attention and be astonished requires some level of simplicity, a kind of humility or purity of heart that enables us to respond with wonder and astonishment.

Mary Oliver indicates that speech should follow attention and astonishment. I wrote a few weeks ago about paying attention to specific things other people do, so that we can give compliments that reflect precisely what we have seen, rather than general compliments like “good job.” So I would argue that one major form of doing what Mary Oliver suggests is helping others see what we see in them and in their actions.

A second form of speaking about what we have noticed and been astonished by involves witnessing. When we pay attention to what God is doing in our lives and in others’ lives, when we are astonished and grateful at what God has done, it is natural for us to speak about what we have experienced.

I have always believed that some Christians have spiritual gifts in evangelism (which I do not have), but that all Christians are called to be witnesses to what we have seen, heard and experienced in our life with God. Several years I wrote an article on that subject, and I just dug it out and posted in the articles section of this website. You can read it here.

The final quotation for this post focuses on the attitude of heart that is required for us to pay attention to where God is and what God is doing in every situation.

“Lord, give me an open heart to find you everywhere.”—Mother Teresa

How can we do what Mother Teresa suggests here – find God everywhere – unless we are paying attention? Her words are a prayer, and her prayer acknowledges that we need God’s help to have the kind of open heart that looks for God.

(Next week: Desmond Tutu on hope. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This is the 13th post in a series on quotations I love. Here are the earlier posts:         
Breton Fisherman’s Prayer  
Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people  
A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work  
The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things  
Thomas Aqinas on loving people we disagree with  

Paul Tournier on building good out of evil 
Thomas Merton on our transparent world  
Moving from intending to pray to actually praying  
Eugene Peterson on paying attention  
Regret and fear are thieves  
Rick Warren on love and disagreement  
Henri Nouwen on being beloved
 

Quotations I love: Breton Fisherman's Prayer

Thursday November 17 2016

Quotations I love: Breton Fisherman's Prayer

Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.
          —Breton fishermans’ prayer

What component of your life feels like a wide sea: overwhelming, scary, hard to navigate, with storms that might arise any moment? Is it a health issue for you or someone you love? A relationship challenge? A job or financial issue? Something political?

I love the power of the metaphor here, acknowledging that we often feel that our boat in the wide sea is just too small for safety. We need God’s help because on our own, some components of life are just too overwhelming. We need a sense of God’s enfolding, God’s arms holding us up, because some aspects of life are just too scary. We need God’s guidance because the sea looks the same in every direction.

I can’t remember where I came across this prayer many years ago. I have used it on cards and stationery for at least two decades. I have prayed it many times, and I’ve given the prayer to others in times of crisis.

When I did some online research to try to find the source of the quotation, I learned that this prayer was given to new submarine captains by Admiral Hyman Rickover (1900-1986). He gave President Kennedy a plaque with the words. Kennedy used this quotation in his remarks at the dedication of the East Coast Memorial to the Missing at Sea, May 23, 1963.  He kept the plaque on his desk in the Oval Office, and a replica of the plaque is available at the Kennedy Presidential Library.

The words on the plaque, however, are slightly different than the words I’ve been using for decades. The Rickover/Kennedy version goes like this: “O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

In the past few days, since I found that information and the slightly different version of the prayer, I’ve been pondering the difference between “the sea” and “thy sea.” The former, which I have been praying and thinking about for years, implies that the sea is simply there. The latter implies that the sea somehow comes from God or belongs to God.

I’m not willing to assert that evil comes from God, so I don’t believe God causes the bad things in our lives. But can get on board with the idea that “thy sea” implies that the big, overwhelming and challenging aspects of our lives, in some way, belong to God.

How are we to respond to this sense of being overwhelmed and challenged by big things? Build bigger boats? My husband, Dave, spent two years on the USS Enterprise floating around off the coast of Vietnam. The Enterprise is about as big as a ship can get, 247 meters (810 feet) long, almost one quarter of a kilometer and just over one sixth of a mile. Even on a ship that big, Dave says tropical storms in the Pacific were scary.

The only solution, as the prayer describes, is to rely on God’s mercy and help. And that’s okay, because that’s what we were created for. “This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him” (Psalm 91:2, NLT). “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:5, 6, NLT).

(Next week: a few quotations on attention. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people

Wednesday November 9 2016

Quotations I love: Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people

“Hospitality is making others feel at home. Some folks make you feel at home. Others make you wish you were.” – Arnold H. Glasow (1905-1998)

Arnold Glasow was a businessman and a humorist. The quotation I’ve highlighted here is both insightful and humorous—in a sad way. How tragic that all of us have people in our lives who we would just as soon spent very little time with.

One challenge raised by this quotation is how we can learn to show love to people who make us wish we were somewhere else. My answer has to do with love and limits. God’s call to us in Christ is to try to love everyone we come into contact with. But, at the same time, Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). In those verses from Matthew, he says that we are to learn from him. Jesus did not spend all of his time with people who frustrated him. He spent time alone with his beloved Father. In the same way, we don’t have to be martyrs and spend endless hours with people who we find difficult to love. We can put limits on the time we spend with certain people.

The second challenge this passage highlights is learning how to help people feel at home in our presence.  This includes people we like and people we don’t like. My husband Dave and I had a long conversation about what we view “home” to feel like, and we boiled our discussion down to two characteristics. Home, at its best, is a place where we feel safe from harm and able to be our true selves, to “let our hair down” and relax.

Here’s a conversation where I did not feel safe and did not feel free to be myself.

Me (at three in the afternoon): I hope you don’t mind. I usually have a snack at three.

The other person (significantly thinner than I am, who has never battled with weight, and who knows that I have): Oh, no, I never snack in the afternoon.

With that response, I felt unsafe, as if I cannot say what I need or want. And felt judged as a person who has found that snacking in the afternoon is a way to help me control my weight. I did not feel free to be myself with my unique needs.

What are some responses the other person might have made to create an atmosphere of safety and freedom to be myself?

Permission giving: “Feel free to have your snack now.”

Curious in a way that indicates interest in my life: “What kinds of snacks do you like?”

Forthright but supportive in a general way: “I never snack in the afternoon, but isn’t it interesting how different people’s bodies work so differently?”

Supportive of my specific journey: “How great that you’ve learned a strategy that works well for you. I know you’ve worked so hard to deal with weight.”

I’ve laid out four kinds of responses that I believe convey safety and acceptance of the other person:
     1. permission giving
     2. curious in a way that indicates interest
     3. forthright but supportive in a general way
     4. supportive of the other person’s specific journey

I invite you to think of a conversation you’ve had with someone where you have wanted to help that person feel at home but haven’t known how to do that. Use each of the four patterns I’ve suggested to imagine responses you could make.

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3: 12-14).

(Next week: Breton fisherman’s prayer. Illustration: Captain Cook’s cottage in Melbourne by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work

Friday November 4 2016

Quotations I love: A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work

“God wants worshippers first. Jesus did not redeem us to make us workers; He redeemed us to make us worshippers. And then, out of the blazing worship of our hearts, springs our work.”
          —A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) [1]

I try to picture who A.W. Tozer was thinking about when he said these words. Was he envisioning a hard working Sunday School teacher who had been teaching kids for thirty years and who was a bit tired, but determined to continue? Maybe he was thinking about people who have what I call a “martyr spirit,” who work hard and get a lot done for the church, but who serve a bit grudgingly, out of a sense of duty. When Tozer was speaking and writing, in the middle years of the twentieth century, the two World Wars and the Depression would have been strong influencers on Christians, teaching them the values of duty, perseverance and hard work.

Even though “duty, perseverance and hard work” are less common descriptors of what motivates people in churches today, I think Tozer’s quotation is valuable in our time for two reasons. The first reason relates to the human tendency for joy in a task to diminish over time. Many Christians today began their Christian life with a sense of joy in God’s goodness. They responded by jumping into some form of service, and their joy has diminished over the years in the hard slog of life. For someone who might use the word “slog” to describe their life of faith and their service of God, Tozer’s emphasis on worship is worth pondering. Perhaps the sense of slog might lessen, and feelings of joy might increase, with a renewed focus on worship.

My second reason why Tozer’s quotation is valuable today relates to the opposite problem, people who view the Christian faith as a means to their own ends and have no intention or desire to work hard for the Kingdom of God. I once read some interviews with young adults, many of whom seemed to view their faith in God as a way to get help to meet their own goals. One of the interviewees said something like this: “I want to be a lawyer, a successful one, and God helps me study and keep my focus now while I’m a student. After I become a lawyer, I know God will help me succeed.”

Tozer refers to the “blazing worship of our heart” as the source of our work. I assume he means all kinds of work: paid work, unpaid work in the home, and various forms of service in the church and community. It’s worth pondering which forms of work in our lives arise most clearly out worship and which forms are somewhat or mostly separate from a heart that’s blazing with the love of God.

And it’s worth pondering what kinds of worship set our hearts ablaze. When, where and how does that kind of worship happen for you?

Work that is motivated and illumined by blazing worship of God will have a different character than work that we view as our right and our achievement. Are we creating climates in our congregations where we encourage “blazing worship of the heart”? Do we talk in small groups and with friends about the connections between worship of God and work/service in everyday life? What would it look like to link worship and work more closely together in your life?

(Next week: Arnold H. Glasow on hospitality as making others feel at home. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

[1] From an address at a Youth for Christ convention, date unknown, quoted in In Other Words, Fall 1999, page 5.