Find Your Focus
Tips for Keeping a Holy Lent
Albert Schweitzer once wrote, “You know of the disease in Central Africa called sleeping sickness. …There also exists a sleeping sickness of the soul. Its most dangerous aspect is that one is unaware of its coming. That is why you have to be careful. As soon as you notice the slightest sign of indifference, the moment you become aware of the loss of a certain seriousness, of longing, of enthusiasm and zest, take it as a warning. You should realize that your soul suffers if you live superficially. People need times in which to concentrate, when they can search their inmost selves. It is tragic that most men have not achieved this feeling of self-awareness. And finally, when they hear the inner voice they do not want to listen anymore. They carry on as before so as not to be constantly reminded of what they have lost. But as for you, resolve to keep a quiet time both in your homes and here within these peaceful walls when the bells ring on Sundays. Then your souls can speak to you without being drowned out by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”
Schweitzer wrote this sometime between 1875 and 1965— the years of his birth and death. He could have been writing to us now. The hustle and bustle of everyday life is all around us. Superficiality in our daily existence can strip our souls of soundness leaving us wondering if we have even lost touch with the reality of the “soul” within us. Certainly there are moments when we feel God’s presence with us. Moments of wonder and awe at the work of the Divine in our lives. But often, we lack the seriousness, the longing, the enthusiasm and zest that Schweitzer spoke of and which so characterized the people of faith as recorded in Scripture and in the lives of the saints.
It would be easy to blame our culture for the fragmentation we feel inside. The media, the fast pace, the push for productivity take their toll on the soul. For example, we rarely do only one thing at a time —we are often doing three or more things at a time. Air travel and technology make it possible for us to traverse cultures and time zones almost without noticing the profound inner shifts that such changes require. We seldom have the luxury of ‘transition time’ between one activity and the next. Perhaps saddest of all, we fear that if we are focused on one thing for too long, the world will pass us by.
Blaming the culture is not a new concept to the human race. It was going on in Jesus’ time as well. People found themselves doing their religious duties in the midst of busy lives, and rigorous religious discipline didn’t seem to afford them any more self-awareness in regard to their souls than it does for us, even when such discipline was rigorous and relentless. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount talked to the crowds about anger and adultery, divorce and oaths, enemies and giving alms, prayer and fasting, wealth and possessions, judging others and taking holiness seriously, faith and fruitfulness, self-deception and acting on the words of God. In the midst of all these instructions we can find a kernel of truth that can help us hear our inner voice with deep delight. The kernel of truth that will help us recover and retain our longing and enthusiasm and zest. Jesus said, “….Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The kernel of truth to be found here— the first tip for a healthy soul and a way to keep a holy Lent—is finding focus. Finding out where our heart is.
It’s easy to understand focus when you think of taking a picture with a camera. You want to photograph a beautiful cluster of flowers say, but when you point your camera over the cluster and look through the lens you can’t see the meaningful detail of the flowers. You see a mass of colors and all the other objects around the flowers. You can’t isolate the veins of the leaves, the panoply of shapes, the intricacies of opening buds, the subtle gradations of texture and color. But if you can zoom in with a focusing attachment, immediately the image you want to capture is isolated and still before you.
Finding soul focus works on the same principle. It’s zooming your attention on that inner core of your being where God dwells. It’s isolating the soul for some moments from all the other competing images, so that the soul can be seen and felt in all its wonder and winsome-ness. T.S. Eliot said, “…except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance…” As long as we are pulled in every direction by the whims of our life and culture, even all the religious duties we attach to our lives will not give us that inner sense that our soul is complete in its companionship with God.
So, how do we begin to go inward? How do we find out where our heart is? How do we focus on the living encounter with the Divine Lover in the midst of our deepest being? One very simple and serious way to begin is to turn off your television. Better yet, get rid of it! But, if that seems too unthinkable, at least turn it off. Turn it off for whole evenings and days at a time. While you’re at it, turn off your radio, and your CD player, and your computer, and unplug your phone. Begin to find your focus by having a rendezvous with silence. Take a walk, write in a journal, sit for ½ hour feeling Jesus at your side, pray, meditate, sing, practice a random act of goodness, and ask yourself over and over again, “Where is my heart?” “Where is my heart?” “Where is my heart?” When you have figured out where your heart really is, and therefore, where your treasure really is, ask yourself if that is where you want it to stay. Where your heart is is where your treasure is.
There’s the wonderful parable in Matthew 25 about the ten bridesmaids. Jesus uses this parable to teach about the Kingdom of heaven. He says that the kingdom will be like 10 bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them forgot to take any extra oil for their lamps. The bridegroom was delayed and while they were waiting for him they all fell asleep. The moment they heard he had arrived, they jumped up and began to trim their lamps. The five who had brought no extra oil asked the others to share some of theirs, because by now they had realized that their lamps would not stay lit. But the five wise ones, knowing that there wasn’t enough for all of them, suggested they go and buy some for themselves. While they ran off to the local Coleman lantern store, the bridegroom came, and the five bridesmaids went in to the wedding banquet with him and the door was shut. Later the other five who had gone shopping arrived, and said, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom replied, “Truly, I tell you, I do not know you.” Jesus ended the parable by saying, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
While this parable is interpreted in many ways, I would like to suggest that this is a parable about finding and keeping your focus. The five wise bridesmaids knew their focus was to be with the bridegroom. That’s what they really cared about. All their actions pointed toward the fulfillment of that focus. They thought to bring extra oil because they weren’t going to let the obstacle of delay keep them from being with the bridegroom. In answer to the question, “Where is your heart?” the answer would have been “with the bridegroom.” The foolish bridesmaids, on the other hand, lacked focus. They were going to meet the bridegroom, for sure, but their hearts were elsewhere as well. Perhaps they were thinking about the journey – perhaps they were worried about their appearance – perhaps they wondered who’d be at the wedding banquet – perhaps they wondered what gifts they would be getting. In answer to the question, ‘where is your heart?’ the answer, for them, might have been “In lots of places.” Because they had no single focus, their hearts, and consequently, their souls remained empty.
Where your heart is, there is your treasure. If you go inside your own house --- into your inner core — in order to find your focus, you will find there what is most alive. You will avoid the tragedy Albert Schweitzer spoke of— of becoming so unaware that when you hear the inner voice you do not want to listen anymore and carry on as before so as not to be constantly reminded of what you have lost. Rather you will find in the quiet and secret place your hidden soul —and in the silence, your soul will speak to you the words of God.