There’s something beautiful in scenes of Jesus’ birth that I notice more and more each year:
That’s all that’s really happening in most images of the nativity. The baby’s already born, the shepherds have already met the angels. Now, people are simply… there. Gathered around the manger, in loving attention.
It’s an image of mindful caring, focused devotion, and immersive wonder.
Simon Weil wrote long ago that, ‘attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.’
To know that’s true is to recognize how limited a resource attention really is. It is precious, because we actually have very little of it. We can only give real consideration to one thing at a time, and our waking moments fly into the past with stunning speed. We truly cannot pay attention to very much of what the world presents.
It means quite a lot to give your attention to someone or something.
Our modern economy certainly knows this. We’ve built systems that reward engagement and attention theft. Every voice competes with the urgency of a smoke alarm to steal our focus away from whatever we’re presently trying to think about. You can’t watch a 5-minute video without an ad cutting in to divert you toward some product or message. How many times did I get distracted from writing this devotional on my internet-connected laptop before I finished it? I’m too embarrassed to count.
Again, it means a lot to truly give your attention to someone or something.
Another person. A piece of art. A bit of good work. A vision of a better world.
Paintings and figurines of the holy family, kneeling in hay and dirt around their precious child, exhibit many things - humility, dignity, trust, affection. Let’s not forget that the nativity is also a picture of dedicated, undivided attention.
I have a tiny fleck of discoloration in one of my irises. If you see it, it looks like a flake of gold dust landed on my eye, but almost no one has ever seen it. Only a very few, who have looked attentively at my eyes for extended periods have distinguished it, and it’s because of them that I even know it’s there. I’m humbled by this fact every time I think of it, that another human being has gazed upon me with such care as to notice something so slight.
It’s a reminder that in our distractable age, when thousands of pattering gadflies are working to fragment our mindset every moment, even now, true loving attention is indeed one of our options.
On Christmas, we’re invited into the nativity. Yes, we’re welcomed into glory. Yes, we’re embraced in exultation. And yes, we are summoned to attention. To turn away from despair and distraction, and to gaze upon the Christ child in humble, profound devotion.
What do you think might happen to you, if you chose to give your full, true attention to hope, joy, peace and love, right now? Would you perhaps experience the birth of grace?
It’s worth trying.
God bless you friends!
Pastor Rob Leveridge
Christmas Eve Worship at The Table
Saturday, Dec. 24, 4pm
1435 W 14th St. in Davenport