We are at Huntington Gardens and my father is kneeling in front of a pink rose, carefully adjusting the lens of his SLR. The bud drops in and out of focus, as does the background and some leaves in front of it. This is more art than science. And it is a balancing act.
The balancing act points to another aspect of focus that challenges us all. The more we focus on any one thing, the less we are able to focus on all kinds of something elses. Sometimes when I try to spend time alone with God I get stuck. I keep thinking of the shopping list. I have to set up the baby monitor. Dang it, did I miss a deadline for my internship at school? When was the last time I took the puppy out? Should I call my mother? Wasn’t I going to start writing a book on the household dynamics of short term missions in northern Mexico from a Bowenian perspective? Are we out of milk?
Sometimes it goes the other way as well. I was talking with someone recently about contemplation. “What if you take it too far?” they pondered. “How do you know it’s not just becoming about you?”
When we turn the lens and focus on something, we are choosing not to focus on everything else in view. This takes a kind of courage. And flexibility. And listening. Turn one way, it gets fuzzy. Turn too much the other, and it will start to lose its sharpness as well. Prayer. Scripture. Listening to the community around you. These are what can keep us in bounds. But what does this look like? So how do we know that we are focusing on the right thing at the right time?
I remember when Jesus heard about John the Baptist being killed. (Matthew 14 if you want to read along) He needed some time alone to recharge. This is such a good model. So he gets in a boat to find a solitary place. I always admired this. How does Jesus know that it is ok to be alone? How does he have confidence that this is the right thing to do at the right time in the right place? What if people needed him?
You can’t make this up. The people ran around the lake. When Jesus landed, there were thousands waiting for him. And Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick. These are the circumstances that led up to the feeding of the five thousand.
So what is the model for focus here?
• Jesus focused on himself when needed. Sometimes you have to put on your oxygen mask first.
• Jesus always kept his eyes and ears open to those around him. His disciples. The multitudes that followed. His community. When they were in need, he was there to serve, not to be served.
• Jesus never lost sight of Scripture. The Spirit was on him because? Because he was anointed to proclaim to the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. Responding to the needs of those around him was what he was about. He had practiced grace and generosity so extravagantly that it had become instinct.
This Lent as we walk with Jesus, he invites us to do the same. Remain aware and take time for holy space and time to recharge when needed. Remain attentive to those around you and respond. Remain alert to our place in God’s story for us, for our community and for the world.