"Attention is the rarest and the purest form of generosity" -Simone Weil
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend CityReach at Common Cathedral with our Youth Group. CityReach is an urban ministry program that aims to bridge the gap between housed and unhoused individuals by building relationships. Youth groups are invited to join CityReach staff (who are unhoused or have experienced homelessness) to do street ministry by offering hospitality, food and clothing. We also had moments for the youth to share and reflect on what impacted them most from the experience.
Luckily, our congregation will get to hear some of those insightful reflections during the Multi-Gen services on December 17th, the Sunday after our glorious Major Music Service this week at 10:30 am!
What a way to begin living into our new worship theme of Generosity! There were so many moments with the Youth Group at CityReach when I was struck by expressions of kindness and generosity and the moments of connection and relationship that came from it. During our time for reflection, I was reminded of the power of giving and receiving. Ultimately, these acts go beyond any tangible items: the pants and coats, the sandwiches and drinks. It is the time and energy given to the act of giving and receiving, the attention given to recognizing someone else’s humanity. As Simone Weil reminds us, “Attention is the rarest and the purest form of generosity.”
In a reflection on Weil’s quote, Robert Zaretsky notes:
"Compassion... means that I identify with the afflicted individual so fully that I feed him for the same reason I feed myself: because we are both hungry. In other words, I have paid him attention… We do not fully understand a fellow human being by staring, thinking, or even commiserating with her. Instead, understanding comes only when we let go of our self and allow the other to grab our full attention. In order for the reality of the other’s self to fully invest us, we must first divest ourselves of our own selves."
When we let go of ourselves and allow the other to grab our full attention, when we can take the time to meet someone where they are and see them in their wholeness, we glimpse a reciprocal and empowering generosity.
A simple example of this shows up in our daily life: giving "thank yous" and "you're welcomes." So often, I find that my knee-jerk response to "thank you" is something more deflective, like "no problem, happy to help." Yet, as the youth reflected beautifully over the weekend, truly valuing and receiving someone's "thank you" is a way of valuing their wholeness and their humanity.
As we enter into a season of giving and receiving, I strive to be as generous with “you're welcome” as I am with “thank you,” and I invite you to join me. How might we use this season to deepen our attention to one another?