Remember when a teacher, or maybe a coach yelled at you, “pay attention!”, leaving you feeling a little bit chastened. And no doubt many of us have used the phrase with every intention of chastising someone we felt deserved it. But the title of this post is about an asset each of us possesses that we can indeed pay, perhaps a better way to put it to ‘pay forward.’
Simone Weil, philosopher, author, and member of the French resistance in WW II, wrote, ”Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” It turns out our attention is actually a form of exchange, something we ‘pay,’ and from which we in turn receive. But Ms. Weil would have us believe paying attention is an act of generosity, in fact a ‘rare and pure’ act of generosity. As is so often the case in human exchange, and seemingly incongruous, as we give we receive.
In giving our attention, we receive in return the richness of that other we have attuned ourselves to. The distinction between giver and receiver fades to another realm - mutuality. The generosity Ms. Weil described initiates a moment of seeing and being seen, of hearing and being heard, where the two positions of giver and receiver become interchangeable. To be heard, to be seen, to be allowed in to another’s heart is how humans thrive. To hear, to see, to grant an other entry into our heart defines relationship, which is at the heart of human flourishing. Mutuality leads to our thriving, and is one sure way to see and feel what God had in mind for us all along.
When I pay attention to you, whether you are speaking, or doing, or just there with me, I might simply be biding my time waiting for my next chance to talk some more. But if I am willing to be open to you, to listen to your words, to be moved by your emotion, I am aligning myself with you. In this moment you are all there is. So I Pay Attention! I am not doing any healing, I am certainly not fixing, all I am doing is holding open the door of my heart. The question then turns on, can I be touched?, can I be moved? Moved by who and what you are, by the wonder and awe of you and your story, by the totality of you. And when this happens, you and I occupy the space contained in that moment that causes a shift in us both. In me, because I have been met by the miracle of the wonder and mystery that is you. I am left with an indelible imprint of you and your story, leaving me a changed person. And for you, having allowed this meeting to occur, you have initiated a true human exchange, one of intimacy, vulnerability, and mutuality.
The poet J.D. McClatchy wrote, “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.” You know what he is talking about. Remember that moment when a child had so much they wanted to share with you they were jumping our of their skin to tell you all about it, wanting nothing more than to fill you up with their exuberance. Remember a moment a friend filled you to overflowing with love and appreciation simply because they were who they were. And think of a time when you felt seen, when another human being allowed you in to their heart, savoring you in all your ‘mystery, depth, and greatness.’
We need look no further, nor try to add anything to these moments, to recognize this is what God looks like and what our human thriving is made of.