Becoming Attentive to God
Picture by Danka Peter
Could we have had encounters with God without realising it? Could God be written into the drama of our lives as if played by a secondary character that we haven’t paid much attention to? Those are the questions that lie behind this book, Unseen Footprints. It will come as no surprise that I believe the answer to these questions is a resounding Yes.
Why do I believe this? Well, as I share in the podcast, unseen realities lie all around us. Some Western Australian geologists discovered this quite dramatically a few years ago. (Hear the story below).
Secondly, I believe in God’s unseen presence because of the amount of people throughout history who have attested to it. Salvation Army founder William Booth, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Florence Nightingale, David Wilkinson and many other leading figures have claimed to have heard God ‘whisper’ to them. Each of them have profoundly changed the world by obeying this voice. In Unseen Footprints I also recount the stories of various tribal groups, and a suburban housewife, who have had similar experiences, plus share my own story of discovering God’s presence in my life.
Thirdly, I draw inspiration for this theme of God’s presence in our lives from one of the great events in religious history – the Jewish Exodus. In the Old Testament scriptures we find a beautiful, ancient Hebrew song called Psalm 77. In it the author recounts God leading the Israelite’s out of Egyptian slavery in the 15th century BC. He then adds:
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
The Jews of the day had experienced God leading them powerfully out of their raging sea of troubles, even though his ‘footprints’ had remained unseen to eyes of flesh. If this is true of yesteryear, why not so now?
Exercise: Becoming Attentive to God
Image by Thomas Griesbeck
Our world distracts us in many ways. Yet attentiveness, as I have come to see, is most critical for us to find the way to clarity of heart, and clarity is the path to seeing God, who is the source and end of all our longing.
Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life
If God’s unseen footprints walk in and out of our lives, how do we begin to discern them? In many ways the whole of Unseen Footprints is an answer to this question, but here’s an exercise from the new edition book to get you started. This guided reflection will help you become more attentive to life and, following this, to God.
The exercise can be explained in three words:
- Walk: Set aside a couple of hours sometime this week for an unhurried walk outdoors in a quiet and beautiful place – a park, a field, a lane, a walking track. Try a time when you won’t feel rushed by other appointments. Jotting any concerns or yet-to-be completed tasks in a notebook beforehand may help you mentally relax. Set out on your walk and consciously slow your walking pace. Feel each footstep calmly meet the pathway. Tense and then relax your hands, arms, shoulders and legs. Consciously slow your breathing.
- Attend: Start paying attention to your surroundings. Notice the warmth of the sun on your skin and the strength of the breeze on your face, the sounds of different birds in the trees and the swaying of branches and leaves. Notice sky and clouds, grass and bark, the sounds of other park-goers and the scents around you.
- Linger: Then, after sitting down on the grass or on a park bench if you wish, pick one sight, sound, smell or sensation to focus on. Notice it, savour it, contemplate it, ponder it. Linger your attention on that flower, bird call, blade of grass or giggling child. At first you may need to gently count to thirty to avoid being distracted by other things. The goal is to be present in the moment, receiving its gifts, being ready to see, listen, feel and learn.
As you grow attentive to nature, beauty, your environment and your experience of it, you are on the way to becoming attentive to the creator who made these things. If you are comfortable doing so, try praying the following as you sit and listen:
Creator God, reveal something about yourself to me through what I’m seeing and experiencing.
In the Podcast
Listen to Sheridan explain the ideas behind Unseen Footprints and the ‘unseen realities’ theme further.
Q: When do you most feel close to or aware of God? How do you try and become attentive to God when you feel distant? Share your comment now.