Incarnation, Attention, Reading Theologically

Simone Weil, a French theologian of the last century, posited that all attention given in school was effectively sacred – all focused attention to the smaller truths that one finds in math class, or science class or while studying philosophy or even theology leads to the greater Truth. She suggests quite clearly that: “Twenty minutes of concentrated, untired attention is infinitely better than three hours of the kind of frowning application that leads us to say with a sense of duty done: ‘I have worked well!'” (Simone Weil, Waiting for God, translated by Emma Craufurd, G Putnam & Sons, p 111)

And that may be true, but I have to admit that attention is occasionally in short supply when I get to class time. After being up at 4am to be at work by 6am or before, and working all day to get home in time for a brief meal before hustling to my room to video conference in to class is often exhausting. I am deeply grateful for this ability to video conference in. It allows me to participate in my Constructive Theology class – which I’m enjoying like I’ve enjoyed all my theology classes – a required class for graduation.

At this point, with only about 8 months left to graduation, I’ve got my eye on the prize – aiming for that goal (and the attendant things that will follow it). This makes it more critical than ever that I pay attention to the here and now. If I get too wrapped up in the there and then, I can easily miss important things. Whether that’s a theological opinion that I haven’t heard from one of my fellow class mates, or a reading that I’ve not yet done, or making sure that my wife and kids have my attention when I am present with them.

That’s part of what the incarnation thing is about. Jesus was fully present in this world. Even after the resurrection, Jesus went to lengths to prove that he was physically present. This was critical to his relationship with his disciples, to his calling for the Heavenly Realm in the here and now. The Heavenly Realm is not just an abstract thing meant to be felt spiritually, or debated academically, but a physical reality as well. That Justice would flow down like rivers – not just spiritually freeing, but physically freeing each person to have their space, and their hope, and become the people God created them to be – it must be incarnated – made physical – through the actions of the people of God.

And of course we are incarnated beings. We are subject to the limits of our physical frames, even though we may transcend them in our minds, our souls or our hopes. It means that considered focus must go into paying attention to not just the classes before us, but the truths revealed in the lives around us, in opinions different than our own, in cultures different than our own. It means that I need to make sure to go to bed earlier the night before class so that I’m not completely wiped by the time I get home on Thursday night.

God willing, as I become a bit more the person God has called me to be – as I live up to the incarnation I should be – I’ll find a way to manage not just my time, and not just my energy, but also my attention. Amen.

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