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Advent Part I: The Call to Pay Attention

Advent Part I: The Call to Pay Attention

November 27, 2022

Matthew 24:42. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

I was once in a writing workshop in which the instructor began most sessions asking participants to list details—concrete, specific details: ten things we had seen that morning on the way to class, five sounds we had heard before breakfast, three things we had tasted or smelled. The exercise sounds simple, but for me it was often hard. She wanted more than “toast” or “traffic.” She wanted to know the quality of the toast or the traffic, the specific sights and smells and sounds and tastes, the particular characteristics that distinguished that morning’s toast or traffic from the toast or traffic of other mornings. Whenever my lists were incomplete or generic, I knew I had not been paying attention. And I know from experience that when I am not paying attention, I risk missing a nudge from God or a glimpse of the Holy.

The second summer of Covid, I gathered with about fifty others in a rural cemetery for a family funeral. It was a hot day, and we sat or stood under the shade of four enormous oak trees, fanning ourselves with the service leaflet. Frankly, the pastor’s theology was setting my teeth on edge, and so I began looking around, focusing on details other than the pastor’s words. Because of that, I can still recall things about the morning I otherwise would not remember: the color of the funeral home tent (white), the flimsy folding chairs (also white), and the sturdy nearby hearse (forest green); what the funeral director and ushers were wearing (blue seersucker suits); which of the first cousins wore masks (Nancy and Carolyn) and which did not (the other four).

But the cornfields surrounding the cemetery on three sides provided the details that stood out most. The green stalks had grown tall. The husks had started to tassel. As we mourned the death of a young woman taken too soon by cancer, the sight of the healthy, ripening corn touched my heart more than any spoken words. Through those cornfields, God caught my eye and offered comfort, hope, and the promise of new life. Because I had been paying attention, I remember.

The darkening days of Advent also invite us to pay attention, despite our busy lives—or perhaps because of them. Can you pause for just a moment several times this week simply to look around, to focus on the specifics of where and how you are right then? Maybe you can carry a small notebook with you and make some lists. What stands out? What do you see, hear, taste, or smell? What emotions or sensations do you feel? What memories come? What ideas? Is there a detail through which the Holy might be breaking into your day, trying to get your attention? How might God be giving you an embrace or a reassurance—or perhaps a nudge, a challenge, or a call?

—Angier Brock


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