Luke 13:31-35

Paying Attention

By Dr. Heather Entrekin

A businessman goes into a cafe and sits down for lunch at the counter. He sees a fellow with a banana in his ear – a banana! He thinks, “I wonder if I should mention that to him. No, it’s none of my business. But it bothers him so after a while he says to the man, “Excuse me, ah, you’ve got a banana in your ear.” The man says, “What?” The businessman repeats, “You’ve got a banana in your ear.” “What was that?” “You’ve got a banana in your ear!” the businessman shouts. “Talk louder,” the fellow says, “I’ve got a banana in my ear!”

It’s a silly story but a serious condition. A lot of us walk around with ears closed and eyes shut in the world of Herod the fox. In Luke, the people of God are walking a dangerous road but they are not paying attention. Jesus stands before them, arms wide open, like he stands before Herod, and tells them the truth about themselves. God has stood before them many times but just like this time, they would rather not hear.

On Friday, I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum or Art and found myself in front of a huge painting by Frederic Edwin Church called Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. It was given a solo show in a gallery when it was painted and people stood six deep to see it, looking at the detail with opera glasses. It shows a couple of people, a child, a camel, in the foreground looking out over this tremendous scene of the city of Jerusalem below, gleaming in shafts of light, self-contained, walled, powerful, impermeable, going its own way. I thought of Jesus standing on that scrubby hill reaching out like a mother hen, as God has done again and again and again. And nobody pays attention.

Writer Catherine Bateson has said that we “need therapy for our wounded capacity to attend.” We excel at living distracted lives at warp speed: multi-tasking we call it and we celebrate it. We eat and watch TV. We drive and talk on the phone. We go to class and text message. We go to church and write a grocery list.

Multi-tasking makes for shallow living. You can do a lot, but none of it goes very deep. There’s a cost. Albert Schweitzer said that “your soul suffers if you live superficially.” Moments of grace, epiphany, insight, are lost to us because we are in such a hurry. Jesus Christ, savior of the world, savior of your life, the peace that we pray for, can stand right in front of you and you will never even notice. Like those puzzles we had as kids where you try to find 10 animals in the picture. They are all there, you are looking right at them, nothing more is needed to see them except…to see.

Joan Chittister, Christian contemplative, tells this story about paying attention: “Where shall I look for Enlightenment?” the disciple asked.

“Here,” the elder said.

“When will it happen?” the disciple asked.

“It is happening right now,” the elder answered.

“Then why don’t I experience it?” the disciple persisted.

“Because you do not look,” the elder said.

“But what should I look for?” the disciple continued.

“Nothing. Just look,” the elder said.

“But at what?” the disciple asked again.

“At anything your eyes alight upon,” the elder answered.

“But must I look in a special kind of way?” the disciple went on.

“No. The ordinary way will do,” the elder said.

“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?” the disciple said.

“No, you don’t,” the elder said.

“But why ever not?” the disciple asked.

“Because to look you must be here. You are mostly somewhere else.”

(in There Is A Season, quoted in Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, 34,35)

Like you, I want to experience deeply the spirit of God. I want my life to count. I don’t want to get to the end and find out I was too busy or bored or distracted to hear God’s still, small voice, too pre-occupied to “wait here and watch with me,” as Jesus asks.

And so I worship. Last week, in a service of Christians and Jews for unity and peace at Church of the Resurrection and I heard a truth I didn’t like about my neighborhood. I was reminded that Leawood, not so long ago, prohibited Jews from buying property there. And I learned that a section of Leawood near 95th and Mission was carved out and given to Overland Park because Jews were living there. We have closed our eyes and ears to the purpose of God.

I am thankful for Sunday School classes and a movie tonight and small groups through Lent that our helping us to pay attention to ourselves and our world and the one who comes that we might have life and have it abundantly.

And I am thankful for children who have not yet forgotten how to pay attention. On Friday I was at the Nelson trying to be faithful to the message of this sermon. After the painting, I went to the museum’s Rozzelle Court for some clam chowder and a scone and sat in that beautiful space watching the sun come through the skylight and the water spray in the fountain. Then the children came in with mothers and grandparents after an art class carrying big sheets of poster board with colorful drawings.

But they didn’t just come in, they skipped into the room. They followed their mothers to tables and they couldn’t stand still, they hopped and danced. One child knelt at the rim of the fountain and splashed her hand into the arc of water. One child wrapped her arms around a huge pillar and balancing her feet on the narrow base, hugged her way around it, not once, or twice, but three times before her mother called her away.

I paid attention to children who pay attention and I saw how beautiful and wondrous this world is and how much God loves us to put it in our hands.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Dr. Heather Entrekin. Used by permission.