The Gift of Attention:

Holiness we can all get involved in

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In his wonderful short book Being Disciples, Rowan Williams writes that holy people:

“…however much they may enjoy being themselves, are not obsessively interested in themselves.

They allow you to see not them, but the world around them.

They allow you to see not them, but God.

You come away from them feeling not, ‘Oh, what a wonderful person,’

but, ‘What a wonderful world,’ ‘What a wonderful God,’

or even, with surprise, ‘What a wonderful person I am too.’”

This sort of holiness isn’t anything to do with floating along through the ups-and-downs of life, being tediously saintly, barely human, probably causing people around us to feel more than a little uncomfortable.

The holy person is not particularly interested in their own spiritual development. They don’t think about holiness, as such. They have learnt to lift their attention off themselves — and give it away, to wonderful effect.

The gift of attention enlarges the world, makes it a little brighter, a little warmer.

People who receive the gift of attention can be helped to feel that the world is wonderful, that God is wonderful, that they might just be wonderful too.

Ultimately, meditation, like all prayer, is not about mastering techniques, it’s about relationship.

It’s not about travelling anywhere or obtaining anything. Rather, it is about releasing everything that prevents us seeing, encountering, what is already here, shining within all creation.

Our practice is our commitment to the quiet, steady work of simply being here, allowing God to make even the smallest aspects of our daily life more transparent to his Light.

Think of meditation as being a little like faithfully polishing a beautiful window.

The point is not to change the window. It’s fine as it is. We polish the window to let the Light pour through, into the eyes and lives of those around us. Not our light, but the Light that is always shining, which cannot be comprehended, but can be known in even the smallest act of kindness, compassion, friendship.

The central lesson we are learning in meditation is to pay attention, to wholly attend.

When we are distracted, we are only able to give those around us a small and distracted bit of our attention. Distractedness, living with our mind scattered in all directions, is also exhausting for us.

Our practice is to take our attention off ourselves, disposing ourselves to the fullness of what is already here, to the fullness of relationship.

As we learn to be attentive, we become better able to see those around us without our own preoccupations clouding the lens of our vision, the eye of our heart.

We discover ourselves becoming more present, more available in ways we might never have expected.

Quietly, almost imperceptibly, God dissolves the barriers that trap us within ourselves and isolate us from each other. We are restored to ourselves. And as this happens, we are restored to each other.

Meditation prepares us for perhaps the most wonderful gift we have to offer: undivided, affirming, attention.

We cultivate attention, so we can give it away. To help people feel that the world is wonderful, that God is wonderful, that they are wonderful.

To think about holiness like this, can give us all great encouragement.

We can all get involved in this sort of holiness.

[1] Being Disciples — Essentials of the Christian Life, SPCK 2016.

School of Contemplative Life
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