An Encouraging Word — Paying attention

They have eyes, but see not. Mark 8:18

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

People ask me all the time where I get my ideas to write about. The answer is simple. I keep my eyes peeled. I look at what is going on around me. I try to pay attention to the people I encounter.

If we want to develop our spiritual lives, we must develop eyes that see. We must learn what might be called the discipline of noticing. To notice something — to truly pay attention — is a powerful thing. The practice of noticing is a skill. It involves learning to see things we might otherwise take for granted.

For example, have you noticed how many ink colors are on the back of a one dollar bill? In spite of handling them every day, many people do not know that there is only one — green. That is why we call them “greenbacks.”  Another example — have you ever noticed that every country that borders on
Austria is south of Austria somewhere on its border, even parts of southern Germany are south of northern Austria.

Ever wonder where Facebook gets all its money? They don’t sell anything and yet the company is worth billions. Your personal information alone is worth $81 to Facebook. Do you wonder why the government makes it illegal to melt down coins, punishing people with prison for doing so? The metal in coins is worth more than the currency. All factors considered, some have noticed that it would actually be cheaper for all of us if we bought homes for the homeless. Notice that if you take out the wire handle on a Chinese take-out containers, it unfolds into a plate.

Paying attention brings huge benefits. A significant benefit is that it transforms us. We begin to see others, ourselves and God differently. People that we never noticed before (not because they were not there, but because we never paid attention to them) quite suddenly matter to us in ways we can’t explain. We find that the more attention we pay to others, the less we are absorbed with our own agendas.

Paying attention exacts a price, however. Sometimes you see things you would rather not see. Why do young people desecrate their necks, calves and fingers with multiple tacky homemade tattoos? Why do some drivers on I-64 insist on driving slowly in the left passing lane, refusing to move over?

Why do middle age men, with grown children, dress like teenagers with ball caps turned around and underwear exposed out of the tops of baggy shorts? Why would anyone planning to live past his 30th birthday stretch their ear lobes to the size of a saucer? It makes you question their judgment.

Paying attention is a spiritual discipline. Practice paying attention and see what develops. Notice people in all their variety, wherever you normally go.

It transforms you into a spiritual archeologist who becomes more and more fascinated about discovering what God is up to in people all around you.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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