Spending attention

Human beings are good at paying very close attention to something for a long time, and also good at paying very close attention to what, ultimately, is of little enduring consequence. It is the work of our lives, as humans, to learn what is worthy of our ultimate attention, and what is not.

The process of moving house offers an example of just how adroitly attention can be redirected. Suddenly all one’s relations with objects can shift: what is dear about a place may become still more dear and beautiful; what is distressing, or troubling, may become bearable because time-limited. Likewise one’s life in artefacts can shift—suddenly there is so much one doesn’t need to hang on to, and the sorting and dispositions process may progress with a kind of ferocious joy.

In sum, this is the condensed version of the continual process of coming into life as a contemplative monastic person, and as a Christian. It is an even more-condensed version of our life now, in the Church and the world, as Christians in Advent awaiting the days that are surely coming. Either that day will come to meet us, or we will go to meet it. Either way, Jesus says we get to choose how we are going to do that. And we get to choose carefully what to pay attention to while we do.

In this season we are given grace, the merciful space to sit up straighter, to stand up and pay attention, see and understand the relative position—the relative value—of all the things in our milieu. Advent bespeaks our life as contemplatives even more so than does Lent. This is our season. The monastic life is a permanent icon, resident in the Church, of the grace, the urgency, the reality of Advent, of paying close attention to what ultimately matters. So let us be what we are with clarity, with attention, with joy.

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