The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things by Leighton Ford: A Review

Attention has been something on my mind quite a bit as of late. Perhaps it is my work with special needs students for whom attention is a constant struggle. Perhaps it is my three little girls all 4 years old and under and their constant need for attention. Perhaps it is my own struggle to be attentive in a world vying for my attention through all things flashy, new, and alluring. It is more likely than not that the synergy between all of these (and more factors, I’m sure) have come to a head in my current stage of life. Regardless, this confluence of seemingly disparate things is the essence of my life and my attention needs to be given to all of them. Even more so, however, I need to be attentive to the God who is working through, in, and among my life events as God pays attention to me.

That is why I am so thankful for this book by Leighton Ford. It has truly been a gift to read and digest. In a time in my life when presence, constancy, and vulnerability – components of attention – are most needed, this book has been a soothing resource.

Structure and Method

There are three areas of exploration Ford wants to bring to the fore in this book:

We will look at attentiveness itself: what is it, and why is it important?

We will see God as the Great Attender, the One who pays attention and calls us to attention.

We will look at the hours of our lives, whether the hours of our days…or the various seasons of life and our spiritual journey, and the kind of attentiveness that each phase calls for. (p. 13)

He does so as a combination of both information and reflection. Each chapter is an explanation of an hour of prayer developed by St. Benedict as he traverses through the entirety of one day of prayer. Hour by hour, Ford gives us not only what the particular hour means for our prayer lives, but also how each one points our attention in specific directions. From waking at 3AM for Vigils, through noontime Sext, and closing the day with Compline at bedtime, each hour is pregnant with opportunity to pay attention to the God who pays attention to us.

A continual thread through each hour is Ford’s reflections connecting the hours with stages of life. Thus, he not only informs us about the history and praxis of each daily hour, but also its deeper significance in our travels through life. Sprinkled throughout are poems, aphorisms, and other words of beauty; some are Ford’s own writings, others are prayerful exhortations to be attentive.

And, finally, every chapter is accompanied by a story of “one who paid attention.” Theologians, missionaries, and authors such as Lewis, Weil, Nouwen, and Mother Teresa fill in gaps with attitudes, events, and postures, making each hour (daily or season of life) potent with both information and reflection.

Personal Reflections

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I loved this book. To be completely honest, it has been on my radar for some time now. I am beyond thankful to have received this copy for review from InterVarsity Press. Ford’s writing is profound and lucid in a way that was unexpected. There were never any forced, spoon-fed answers. Rather, he wrote in a manner that left me asking more questions than anything else. The aforementioned goals of this book are substantially met by Ford.

Moreover, I resonated highly with his use of the Benedictine hours. As one who finds grace and beauty within the ancient practices of the church, having a routine to give structure and import to my day is most welcome. I particularly found his understanding of Vespers and Compline to be as vital as they were calming. I have begun to (once again) incorporate the prayers of Compline into my nightly routine as I’ve also found resonance with his reflections on Compline as a season of life.

I would give some quotes from this book, but the copious amount of highlighted material is far too much. I’m pretty certain that I killed an entire highlighter reading this book. However, I will give a select few pertinent quotes from the opening introduction. If you are one who struggles with attention and/or wonders how to learn the discipline of attentiveness in a distracted and distracting world, I highly suggest this book.

Paying attention is not a way by which we make something happen but a way to see what is already given to us…’Lord, show me what I am missing.’ Let us start this journey together where we are, with that prayer, and see what he shows us. (p. 15)