Attend. It’s not a word we often employ these days, with the exception of the sense of showing up at a particular function: ‘I attended a wedding/concert/conference/party.’ This sense of the word is very physical—my body was in that room.
At its root in Latin, the word literally means “to stretch toward,” which eventually took the sense of “stretching one’s mind toward something.” Or, simply, to pay attention.
We’ve lost the word and the skill it points to, many of us. We may attend a party physically—but our minds are on the work we left at the office, or the fight we had with our spouse in the car. We’re physically present, but we are hardly paying attention.
When was the last time you stopped long enough to pay attention—to attend—to the world around you? When was the last time you stopped long enough to soak in with your senses?
Do you ever stop and just look?
…at waves crashing against rocks, spraying white foam.
…at ragged, pointed blades of grass, bending under foot, then springing back to place.
…at tiny fingers, squeezing pencil, prow pursed, bent over homework.
Do you ever stop and just listen?
…to unique melodies making the symphony of birdsong.
…to wind—humming, singing, whispering, rustling leaves.
…to breaths in and out, rhythmic, life-giving.
We could go on. The taste of your morning coffee or the salt in the air. The smell of your shampoo in the shower or a passing woman’s perfume. The texture of your shirt, the softness of skin, the earth underfoot.
The scenery you passed on the way to work this morning—can you recreate it? The woman checking out your groceries, serving your coffee—do you remember her name, what her face looked like? Did you linger long enough on your co-workers, your children’s faces to notice their facial expression? Did you notice where their faces crease as they smile?
So much color, such a feast, so much vibrant life. It’s there if we have eyes to see. But how often do we stop, pause, long enough to take it in? Long enough to let it take us in?
Our culture pushes against this (unless you are in a community of the artistically-minded). Some would call this pausing to “just” soak in with our senses laziness, unproductive, pointless. What good will it do, what end will it lead to? Our culture pushes us forward at a rapid pace—rushing, always rushing, trying to cram just one more thing into our schedule. Time is of the essence—and we simply do not have the time to spare to just stop. Technology allows us to be continually connected—checking emails on the train, sending memos while stuck in traffic, catching up on correspondence while waiting for a table at a restaurant. Always faster, always busier, always pushing for success. We draw our kids into this break-neck speed—homework, dance lessons, soccer practice, community service. And what’s the result? Our scheduled “lives” are distracting us from life.
Even some Christian communities push back against this. Some elevate the soul—or the intellectual mind—at the expense of the body. The physical realm becomes meaningless, something of distraction or lesser importance, and the most important parts of reality become the unseen, ethereal, disconnected world. But in this they forget that we were created with bodies, bodies that are not in-and-of-themselves evil. They forget that Jesus Christ himself took on a body. They forget that not just our souls are being redeemed—but also the heavens and the earth will be made new. Creation is not evil, and our world is not to be escaped through some form of Gnostic spirituality, trying to cut away the physical in order to become more “spiritual.”
God created this world—with all its detail, all its physicality—and he declared it to be good. He was by no means required to give humans senses to engage it. But, thank you Lord, he did. He made us physical bodies, in a tangible world, with the ability to absorb and experience it. What an invitation! He created this world and called it good, and he even took on flesh himself and dwelt in this physical world with us. We are embodied creatures. He became the embodied God-man in Jesus.
So I challenge us—let us pause long enough to pay attention, long enough to really see, to really experience our world. Let us attend to—let us ‘stretch toward’—the life around us, in all its beautiful, quirky detail. For at least a few moments each day, let us attend.