One of the lenses through which to look at our daily decisions is that of “attention.” Without thinking too much about it, we move from one thing to the next and shift our attention as we go. And sometimes we split our attention and try to focus on more than one person or point simultaneously.
One day a little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class. She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner.
“Mom, guess what?” she squealed, waving the drawing.
Her mother didn’t look up. “What?” she said, tending to the pots.
“Guess what?” the child repeated, waving the drawing.
“What?” the mother said, tending to the plates.
“Mom, you’re not listening.”
“Sweetie, yes, I am.”
“Mom,” the child said, “you’re not listening with your eyes.”
We know that kids are not the only ones asking for our attention. Media, advertising, politicians, you name it, are doing back flips to get us to click, buy or vote. A psychologist, Herbert A. Simon, coined a term to describe this finite resource in a culture competing for it, “the attention economy.” And since attention is, after all, finite, we can’t be surprised that by 5:00 we feel like pulled taffy from the fairgrounds.
Life during the pandemic has required us to make a lot of concessions, adaptations and accommodations to remain attentive to the people and projects that are important to us. Whether we are splitting our attention or just shifting our undivided attention during the course of the day, managing this resource takes a lot of energy. When we are low on this energy, it seems to me that we don’t have to wait for New Year’s or Lent to pause and look carefully at the pace and demands of the day and week—to review what’s going on, to pay attention to where I pay attention, and to consider changes, even if radical.
In the process, we may notice we are overdoing one activity or the other, maybe going down too many rabbit holes, doomscrolling, whatever. We may even notice that we are paying less attention to what is happening in our hearts. Perhaps Valentine’s Day, a wonderful reminder of the centrality of the heart in our daily living, can offer us the encouragement we need to be attentive to the heart.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle devoted significant energy to this attention. The way he organized his day, his meals, his interactions, his prayer, all of it, was oriented to staying in touch with his heart. He lived out of a fundamental conviction that the fullness of God dwells within our hearts. His practice has become our spiritual legacy. The breathtakingly simple prayer, “Live Jesus in our hearts,” is a call to keep us aware of and attentive the living and loving presence of God.
There is a purifying energy available to us in our hearts. It’s within reach. There is idealism in Saint Paul’s encouragement to the Christian community in Thessaloniki to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,” but this ideal is well within reach. Our Lasallian spiritual practice keeps it within reach. We can indeed “be joyfully attentive to the Presence throughout the day.”
It may take a little work though; we may have to reorganize the day a bit. But it’s worth it. Knowing, as the heart knows, that God is present in my very person is a transformative awareness that changes all of the other moments of attention in the course of the day. Out of this attention comes an inner stream of life-giving energy for all the people and projects that deserve our attention. That is why I say that Valentine’s Day may be a good time to renew our resolve to make time to be attentive, open and available to the presence of Jesus in our hearts.
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
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Top photo: Students at Lewis University, courtesy Lewis University