Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Tyranny of Attention

October 17, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

Recently my friend L. was scheduled for an out-of-town trip. She called shortly before she left, confirmed her departure time, and added that she would stop by on her way out of town and leave some chicken salad in the refrigerator. Knowing that I was scheduled at a luncheon meeting at the time she planned to stop, I wrote her a note, put her name on the envelope, and taped it to the refrigerator door. I assumed she would see the note and pick it up when she put the salad in the 'frig.

As I had anticipated, the excellent chicken salad was in the refrigerator when I returned home. The note, however, somewhat to my surprise, was still taped to the refrigerator door, unopened.

I realized what had happened, and smiled to myself. My friend who has a powerful ability to focus narrowly on the task at hand had been concentrating on her "get out of town" check-list. That list included, "Leave left-over chicken salad at Gay's" but did not include "Pick up note from Gay." She saw what she viewed as relevant to her task--Gay's house, refrigerator, chicken salad. Other things, while present, simply did not appear on her radar.

After some thought, I left the note taped to the door of the refrigerator. A week or so later, now back in town, L. and another friend came for dinner. The three of us smiled about the note, still on the refrigerator door, and discussed the way our minds can sometimes bend in "blind" obedience to a task our wills have set. At such times, in complex ways, we often see only what we have assigned ourselves to see.

After shared good food, we discussed a fine book we jointly had been reading. We were surprised when we realized what time it was.

"It's time for me to gather myself together and go home," L. said, and promptly did so. She carried dishes to the kitchen, gave each of us hugs, retrieved her purse, gathered up her tote bag along with a number of bulky parcels, and efficiently, no help needed, got herself out the door, into her car and started for home.

Later while turning off kitchen lights I walked by the refrigerator and laughed aloud. There stuck in place on the refrigerator door, was the note, much discussed but still "unseen" while posted in plain sight.

One of the ways we change our environment lies in the instructions we give ourselves about the things to which we are to pay attention.

I found myself wondering how often God had posted a note for me, and I had left it "unseen" and unread simply because I didn't expect to hear from God.

This week I have made myself an assignment: to see epiphanies--glimpses of God at work in His kingdom, in others, and in my own life, doing that which God has promised to do. We are not alone--God has assured us of his loving, generous presence. I think, however, that I grow in capacity to respond to God's presence in relationship to the instructions I give my eyes: See God, and worship Him.

What--or whom--do you plan to see this week?

Thinking with you about the unsuspected tyranny of attention.

See you next week,



  1. I must admit that I have a minimum of Mostone epiphany a week--every Sunday night when I faithfully read your BLOG! I am so grateful that you are writing your thought down for us. (I know I represent many, Gay.) I will watch carefully and listen for my post it notes from God this week.

  2. What a wonderful habit I would like to put into my life, "to see epiphanies, the glimpses of God at work in His Kingdom, in others, and in my own life". What a great discipline in focusing outside of myself. Thank you.