I recently received Leighton Ford’s The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things. It’s been on my radar for awhile now, as I have been diving head first into resources geared towards the contemplative. I grew up in a world of faith bereft of the stillness and silence central to reflection and contemplation. In its place, individualistic devotions and missions trips comprised of agenda-driven questionnaires were dominant.
Nowadays, I find myself drawn towards activism. In a world driven by causes, I have become convinced in the strength moving into the neighborhood and finding where God is already at work. This means that activism takes on a very regular look, can seem humdrum and ordinary, and is a slow process. We don’t enter into situations and relationships as the ones bringing wisdom and learning; no, we enter in as ones who are in need of being taught as mutually live life together. Humility, vulnerability, and mystery lead the way as we devote ourselves to a place and a people, not merely a cause.
This also means a holistic approach is much needed. Activism without contemplation falls flat as we tend to move in our own strength while finding ourselves drawn to the flashy, big splash realities of what we think needs attending. Likewise, contemplation without activism gives us big ears full off of listening as we gorge ourselves on the whispers of God without doing anything about them.
I say this because I love the following story of missionary Vincent Donovan. He went to the Masai people of East Africa, a people I have spent a little time with myself. I love this story because it tells of a man who went into a place and a people expecting certain things and finds himself changed on the other end. He was honest with his own doubts and allowed “the High God” to teach him through the people he was supposed to be “reaching.”
I also love this simple story because of the lessons we can learn about God and God’s missional nature. God is a lion and I need to be reminded of that.
Once he [Donovan] told them how God has led the nomadic Abraham to see that he was the God of all peoples and not just of one tribe. Could it be, he asked, that they had worshiped this High God without knowing him – the truly unknown God?
There was silence. Then someone asked a question. ‘This story of Abraham – does it speak only to the Masai? Or does it speak also to you? Has your tribe found the High God? Have you known him?’
Donovan was stumped. He thought of how in France since the time of Joan of Arc, the French people has associated God with a quest for glory. He thought of fellow Americans who had always asked God to bless ‘our side’ in wars. After a long time he replied, ‘No, we have not found the High God. My tribe has not known him. For us, too, he is the unknown God. But we are searching for him. I have come a long, long distance to invite you to search for him. Let us search for him together.’
Months later, as he spoke with a Masai elder about his own struggle with belief and unbelief, the elder explained that his language had two words for faith. One simply meant to agree with something. That, said the elder, was like a white hunter shooting down an animal from a distance.
To speak of real belief, he said, took another word, a word that referred to a lion going after its prey, speeding to catch it, leaping at with a blow that kills, then enfolding it into its great arms to make it part of itself. That, said the elder, is faith.
Donovan listened in amazement. The elder continued.
“We did not seek you out, Padri. We did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You followed us away from your house into the bush…into our villages, our homes. You told us of the High God, how we must search for him, even leave our land and our people to find him. But we have not done this…We have not searched for him. He has searched for us. He has searched us out and found us. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.”
In the end, the lion is God, the God who began to seek us even before we knew it, in the time before our time. – Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life, p 62-63.