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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Paying Attention

“Happy is the one that considers the poor…” (Psalm 41:1).

Some folks are poor in possessions and appearance; others in faith, hope and love. Even if we can’t alleviate the poverty of those we meet along the way we can “consider” the poor, a verb that means, “to pay attention.”

G.K. Chesterton defines a saint as one that exaggerates what the world neglects, and what is neglected today is the art of paying attention. Few seem to be aware of the pain that exists all around them; they go their way inattentive and unmoved. As Jesus put it in his day, “the love of many has grown cold.” 

In such a world it’s not hard to find some misery to alleviate: a divorcee or widow, stricken with loneliness; a weary parent kept awake at night by an unwell child; a frightened man awaiting cancer surgery in the morning; a care–worn checker in a grocery store working a second or third job to make ends meet; a young boy who’s never had enough father; a single mother whose flood of worries has washed her hope away; a lonely old man who believes he has outlived his usefulness; a hurting heart behind your own front door. Perhaps you don’t have much to give, but you can pay attention. You can see beyond what others see to the possibilities of mercy, compassion and understanding.

John Newton wrote on one occasion, “If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things, but I will not neglect this.” This is “paying attention.”

One summer, several years ago, I came across a book entitled The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow. It is the diary of a twelve-year-old child who lived at the turn of the century in lumber camps in western Oregon. As I read Opal’s diary I was awed by her simple compassion and sensitivity. Though abused as a child she was never swallowed up in self-pity, but freely gave herself away. Here’s a brief excerpt from her diary:

When the churning was done, the mama did lift all the little lumps of butter out of the churn. Then she did pat them together in a big lump, and this she put away in the butter box in the woodshed. When she went to lay herself down to rest on the bed, she did call me to rub her head. I like to rub the mama's head, for it does help the worry lines to go away. Often I rub her head, for it is often she does have longings to have it so. And I do think it is very nice to help people have what they do have longings for.

Perhaps today by some act of kindness you and I can rub someone’s worry lines away, for it’s very nice to help people have what they do have longings for.”

One last thought: There's an upside imbedded in the beatitude. In the oldest and oddest paradox of all, we’re happiest when we're thinking of others. Consider those who think only of themselves, who grasp and grab and play it safe. The life they save is the life they lose. In the end it’s worth nothing to anyone including themselves, a featureless, lifeless parody of those that have lived and cared for others. The only life worth living, it seems, is the one that is given away.

The realm of happiness is easily entered: “Consider the poor.”

DHR

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