I’ve been reading in Simone Weil’s Waiting on God again. It fascinates me how sometimes Jesus brings the same word through multiple sources. Apparently unconnected, they build upon one another to reiterate the identical message. Present to him first and, for now, to him only. This time, though, the language is not of presence but of attending. Attending to God that we might receive him in all his truth. Attending, out of that, to others in the same way. Listen to what Weil says:
prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God.
…This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.
My prayer, again and again right now, is this. Jesus, teach me how to attend to you. For so often I attend to others. To their demands and expectations. Even sometimes to my perceptions of others’ demands and expectations, perceptions which may or may not be accurate. And, in attending to them first, I do not attend to him.
Jesus, teach me how to attend to you. Even as I ask, I sense his reply, working its way to the surface from the deep places in me where he is at home. Though recently he did a significant foundational work, clearing the old ground of the debris which had accumulated, now it will be a series of little moments of choosing to attend to him first and him only.
I’ve seen the truth of this day-by-day training already in the weeks since that glorious soul-immersion. The draw of those at church whose pastoral need I could try to meet. Would have sought to meet, in weeks gone by, whether out of compassion or a sense of responsibility-taking. The draw also of expectations upon me specifically in my leadership role, expectations which are perhaps largely mirage of my own heart’s creation yet nonetheless real in their pull. The draw of a loneliness which tempts me to fill it with people. Each one an opportunity to remember my calling. Each one an opportunity to continue to say No to attending to others in the hope of a Yes to attending to him.
And it hasn’t been great. I’ve slipped up at least as often as I’ve chosen well. But, you know, as I’ve learned to hide in the secret of his presence I’ve seen that fruitfulness which is sheer overflow. I’ve seen the gifts of wild grace which flow when presence to others comes only out of presence to him. Twice this week as I’ve sat in my little office, reading and writing and praying, Jesus has turned up when students have walked in the door and opened their hearts. I wasn’t expecting it. One just turned up unannounced, wanting their heart to be heard by someone. The other came to talk about an essay they were struggling over and, after chewing over some thoughts together, conversation turned to things of the soul and we moved without warning into the realm of what the student tells me was, for them, the prophetic.
This awareness of the presence of Jesus in that little room – a room hardly big enough to swing a cat (though why you’d want to…?) – it’s what I’ve prayed for, to be honest, and what I’ve been seeing in the Spirit since January this year. That somehow that little workspace would become a thin place. A place where Jesus gets to do his work and I get a front row seat, learning to receive him and the ones he sends to me in all their truth. And as I see this beginning to happen in the natural now, however slowly, I am coming to know that it will be enough for me: to hide in the secret of his face as the Psalmist puts it, attending to his presence, that I might learn to attend from that place also to those whom he loves.