A work of grace and beauty

Leighton Ford’s The Attentive Life is a work of grace and beauty, well worth multiple slow and attentive readings.

Coming from the mind and heart of a very wise man, this slender volume is redolent with truth and love. It’s the kind of book that probably could only have been written by an older person, but that deserves careful consideration by people of all ages, especially young men!

Seventy-six-year-old Ford, a former world-trotting evangelist, recently a trainer and mentor of younger leaders, has stepped into the role of “artist of the soul and a friend on the journey.” As an artist with words, he surely succeeds, with elegant, even poetic prose laced with pithy nuggets of his own and apt quotations from a wide array of skilled authors. Rarely has a Christian leader with such a well-earned reputation for character and spirituality revealed so much of his own weakness and shortcomings. One thinks of St. Augustine’s Confessions.

As the back cover says, “Distractions and fear and busyness were keeping Leighton Ford from seeing God’s work in an around him. So he began a journey of longing and looking for God. And it started with paying attention.”

Under the rubric of “attention,” Ford includes concepts like listening, alertness, and the contemplative life. Chapter One, “Paying Attention,” would have been, as the saying goes, worth the price of the whole book, for it highlights how critical is attentiveness for finding “the way to clarity of heart,” which is “the path to seeing God.”

The author wants to help us be “clear at the center” (his preferred rendering of “pure in heart”) “and so with true attentiveness ‘to see God in all things, and all things in God.’” Such a quality mirrors the nature of God himself, who is a “Father who watches with careful attention.” After all, God is love, and “love is focused attention.”

By contrast, we learn how deadly distraction and inattention can be, not only in our relations with those around us, but in knowing either ourselves or God. “Perhaps inattentiveness is our greatest sin – not only against [God] but against ourselves.”

How, then, do we overcome inattention? Ford follows the “hours” of the monastic rule to paint a portrait of a life which stops, looks, and listens seven times a day. Each of these “hours” is related to a time of day, a state of mind, and a phase in our journey through life, until death itself approaches.

I am hard pressed to describe either the loveliness of this book or the depth and relevance of its central message as the theme unfolds and develops with a remarkably organic flow. A banquet of gourmet delights, pleasing to the palate, delightful to the eyes, and nourishing to the soul. A diamond with dozens of facets, each reflecting and refracting light in dazzling variety. A tapestry of rich colors of every hue, complex but coherent. A bouquet of flowers. A symphony of ideas and images, with theme and variation, ending in a quiet but deeply moving climax.

But I cannot do justice to the variegated richness of Leighton Ford’s style or the content of this highly-autobiographical guide to the attentive – and finally contented – life. You must read it for yourself. Soon. Repeatedly. Attentively.