The Attentive Life: Discerning God's Presence in All Things
Leighton Ford will be a familiar name to those who remember the heyday of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. From 1955 to 1985, Ford served the organization in a number of capacities, including associate evangelist and vice president. He has spoken to millions of people in 37 countries on every continent of the world, is Honorary Life Chairman of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism, and has been singled out by TIME magazine as being "among the most influential preachers of an active gospel." Active indeed.
So when Leighton Ford writes a book around sitting still, it's worth sitting up and taking note.
Ford confesses that he wrote THE ATTENTIVE LIFE for himself as much as anyone, but he's also alert to the broader issues of perpetual hurry in modern life and the potential this has to wreak havoc on spiritual life. He writes, "Hurrying from one thing to the next we do not stop, look, and listen to God's voice right now. I wrote this for myself in part, because with a very busy mind I found myself not really listening to God, others or even my own heart. And one of the consistent themes of Scripture is God calling for attention. As Jesus said, 'Give your full attention to what God is doing right now.'"
To focus his attention, Ford has adopted the practice of observing the hours. Observing the hours is an ancient Christian ritual developed by St. Benedict wherein specific prayers are offered at specific times during the day, serving the purpose of keeping the devotee's mind focused on Christ through whatever the day brings. It's perhaps a testament to the truth in Ford's observation that modern life isn't conducive to reflection (and the risks of this) that almost every time you look up these days, another book is being published that "rediscovers" the quiet power of Benedictine spirituality, and specifically St. Benedict's practice of observing the hours. Many are finding this way of ordering one's life around God a welcome antidote for the pressures of the world, in which multitasking is the norm.
Ford's insights about stages of the day and stages of life are keen, and especially poignant given his already long and rich experience of both. He writes about joy and grief as one who has been doubled over by both. And still he is trying to pay attention. He writes, "The most vital way to measure our lives is not by chronological time --- chronos time, to use the Greek word --- but in terms of kairos, the word often used in the Bible to speak of those opportune times that become turning points. Kairos is the word Jesus often used when he said, 'My time is not yet,' or 'My time has come.' To be fully alive is to pay attention to kairos encounters. As Paul wisely counseled his readers, 'Be very careful, then, how you live --- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil' (Eph. 5:15-16).
"I like to think of the attentive life also as the contemplative life, for contemplative literally mean 'putting together.' We connect the dots between the chronos and the kairos of our life, relate the hours that we measure by the clock to the hours and seasons of our souls."
While he does point to the hours frequently as a framework for thinking about paying attention to God, Ford is not so much concerned that you stick to a schedule. Instead, he hopes to stoke an awareness of God's presence that pervades all things at all times. To this end he offers examples of those who have inspired him with their ability to attend to the important things --- everyone from Simone Weil to C.S. Lewis to his dog prove that different personalities have different ways of engaging the presence of God and others, and that we too can learn to make this a part of our own daily (and seasonal) rhythm.
Ford is clearly thinking about using time well at this stage of his life, but his observations are perhaps even more apt for those not looking back on the bulk of their life's work. This is truly a book, and a life, worth paying attention to.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on April 1, 2008