Lynne is a Presbyterian minister and author of numerous books and Bible study guides. She lives in Seattle. Read more »
Soon before she left her position in New Zealand as senior lecturer in pastoral theology, Lynne recorded a one-minute video for her departmental website describing what's most important to her in her writing and teaching.
Lynne spoke last year on "Spiritual Practices for Preachers" (recorded as a video on YouTube.) The talk is relevant to anyone in ministry and focuses on how to draw near to God simply as a child of God as well as engaging in spiritual practices for the sake of ministry.
"Lynne's writing is beautiful. Her tone has such a note of hope and excitement about growth. It is gentle and affirming."
— a reader
"Dear Dr. Baab, You changed my life. It is only through God’s gift of the sabbath that I feel in my heart and soul that God loves me apart from anything I do."
— a reader of Sabbath Keeping
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Thursday November 24 2016
“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