The notice I received had this heading: Attention as a Cultural Problem and the Possibilities of Education. It was a notice of a lecture being held at a major university and it certainly caught my attention.
One of the most consisted messages in all the writings of the Fathers is the absolute need for attentiveness to central truths. And one of the key weapons used against us in our spiritual growth is the constant temptation to inattentiveness. St. Seraphim of Sarov said “Only those who have interior prayer and watch over their souls receive the gifts of grace.” (On The Prayer of Jesus). No wonder we hear in the Divine Liturgy “Let us be attentive!”
Look at our Matins lesson today in Matthew 25:1-13:
The Lord said this parable, “The kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of man will come.”
There’s a very important reason we are hearing this passage at this time of the year! It’s because this time of the year is filled with so much distraction that we need this very plain message to return our lives back to the reason for the season!
And the Lord gives us a powerful parable to do just that.
The story of the 10 Virgins; 5 wise and 5 foolish, lay out for us the power of preparation, attention, and focus. What set the 5 wise virgins apart was their attention to the purpose of their waiting. They were anticipating the arrival of the Bridegroom, so all their attention was placed on all the eventualities related to their one primary purpose. You see, in that day, a wedding celebration was sometimes a month long event. Travel was not convenient, and was usually dangerous. Delays weren’t just anticipated, they were expected. And the 5 wise virgins were attentive to reality.
Sadly, the 5 foolish virgins weren’t “bad” or “evil” or even “hateful.” They were inattentive. Their focus was diluted by other purposes and a scattered focus. It reminds me of watching some teens crossing a busy street the other day and every one of them were watching their phone screens rather than the traffic. Dangerous.
When your attention is diverted, divided, and diluted by a forgetfulness of your purpose and an inattentiveness to eternal truths, your life naturally reflects this scattered attention. So much of your energy is wasted on pursuits that have temporary value, while eternal values are left unattended. You have to know that won’t end well!
But there is a remedy to inattentiveness. It lies within your grasp even now. The disciplines of the Faith: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving are the cure for inattentiveness, and the whole of the Orthodox Christian Year is designed to keep you awake and attentive to your life in Jesus Christ and His Church. Such spiritual treasures and tools lavished on us by centuries of wisdom and work of the Holy Spirit in His Church means there’s no reason for any of us to be inattentive – ever!
So, Today, are you ready for the coming of the Bridegroom? He will come and those who are not surprised by His returning will be glad. Those who are surprised will be disappointed when He doesn’t recognize them because they’ve been so inattentive to being formed in His likeness. Being Attentive will make you Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Lord, I know You came first as a helpless baby to destroy my helplessness. And I know You will come again as the Conqueror of Death and the King of Kings to grant me a place at Your Table in Your everlasting Kingdom. And this knowledge fills me with wonder and dread because I am so inattentive most of the time to these truths. Help me, Oh Lord, to overcome this inattentiveness to allow the promise of Your Return to focus my life on eternal truths. Amen