In the exhaustive – and perhaps exhausting – commentaries that intersperse play on the field, footballers are often referred to as ‘focused’ or ‘concentrated.’ The ability to concentrate is more important than the physical skill of players. You can train till the cows come home, but if you are not in ‘a good psychological space’ you won’t play well.

We have been required to ‘be attentive’ since our first day at school, but actually it is a quality we seldom learn satisfactorily. It is the ability to wait for the moment when the ball comes to me, when the fish rises or an opportunity of any sort comes my way. If I am daydreaming at that moment, I will miss my chance.

The scriptures at this time of the year are full of advice about being alert. Mark’s gospel, for example, (Ch.13) repeats the command ‘stay awake’ four times in the space of a few verses (vv 33-37). I do not think it is particularly easy for us to be alert all the time – like a bird or a buck always sensing danger. But it is the one quality that stretches us and opens us to receive more from life than we would have imagined possible.

There was almost a new French revolution in 1968 when the students became angry with their government and one of the placards they carried read POUVOIR A L’IMAGINATION! Forward with imagination! Their meaning was clear. They perceived their elders and chefs as stuck in endlessly repeating past history and refusing to understand the new reality all around them. It is like our habit of endlessly replaying clips from the liberation struggle.

A great twentieth century thinker, Karl Rahner, wrote, ‘what is merely stored up or handed down without fresh endeavour is heading for decay.’ Or someone else said even more succinctly, ‘what you do not transform you transmit.’ Listen to your children. They are your best teachers.

We cannot just sit and live our life as we have always done. That might have been OK when people lived more traditionally, but today if you sit and wait, you will be left behind.

This is not to say that we all have to be researchers and inventors. But it does mean that we have to be attentive to everything and every person we meet. ‘Staying awake’ ultimately means being ready when the Lord comes. But until that happens there are lots of other things and people coming to us for our attention and helping us to develop the habit of being attentive. And one sign that we are awake is that we welcome problems! Wouldn’t it nice if we had no problems? No, it wouldn’t! For it would mean we were dead.

Ignatius of Loyola once said, ‘where there are many contradictions great things can be expected.’ Problems or ‘challenges’ as we seem to call them today are opportunities for us to grow if we could just attend to them.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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