The thing that struck me about Abraham was his eyes. Abraham was an old man of dignified bearing and an easy smile. A very old man -- 99 years old.
But despite his advanced age, his eyes are always alert. Always scanning the face of the person before him, attentive to what is being said, but also to what is not being said. Abraham's eyes sparkle with the brilliance of a man who sees more than what passes before him. He sees and understands the meaning of events, of how God enlivened the world with hope and promise.
To Abraham, God is an old friend. They've walked many miles together, had some disagreements, but have learned to trust each other deeply. Abraham knows something about God -- God is full of surprises. God may sometimes seem taciturn. But Abraham knows those are the occasions when one should be most attentive. Something is getting ready to break.
Many years ago, God made a promise to Abraham. God promised that Abraham would be the father of a new nation. Armed with that promise, Abraham took his wife Sarah, then 65, and their servants, left their farms behind and moved to the land of Canaan. On the basis of a seemingly impossible promise, Abraham made a most drastic move. He had trust in God.
Ten years went by and still Abraham and Sarah had no children. Abraham was now 85, Sarah, 75. Again, God called to Abraham and reiterated his promise.
Abraham laughed. Not a scornful, disbelieving laugh, but the laugh of someone who trusted God yet who was aware of the absurdity of what he had promised.
"God is more than I can understand," he thought. "I have to be alert to how God may surprise me."
Some would be angry with God for being so slow to deliver. They would be stuck on the promise, unable to live their lives because they were waiting for a miracle to come along. Others would have given up, become bitter and seen God as a liar. Their laugh would have had a different tone than that of Abraham.
Abraham, however, knew that creating this new nation was God's project, not his own. He was prepared, but not anxious. When the time came, he would give all his energy to fulfilling the promise. But today had its own cares and he could see God acting in the events of each moment.
Fourteen more years went by. Then, one hot day three men passed by Abraham's and Sarah's tent at Mamre. Abraham was delighted to see strangers. So he dashed to greet these men and invited them to stay. They got the royal treatment -- they received water to drink, their feet were washed, and the choicest flour and the meat of a tender calf were used to prepare their meal.
Abraham is awake to God in the moment. He does what the compassionate God would do. Indeed, on this day, the visitors turn out to be God's messengers. Their message: "Now is the time. Within one year you will be parents to a son."
If Abraham had been feeling sorry for himself because of God's unfulfilled promise, he might not have invited in these strangers. And, oddly enough, the promise might have gone unfulfilled because of his inattention.
But Abraham was out of himself, attentive to God and to others. He is awake to God's revelation in each moment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Abraham's "attentiveness of heart . . . is essential to prayer" (no. 2570). The words one says in prayer derive their significance from that attentiveness.
In fact, for Abraham, life itself was a prayer. He did not escape into dreams of the future or longing for a supposedly glorious past. He was alert to the present moment and the promise it held.
It is in the "now" that one finds God. When I seek God's presence in this moment, rather than in the past or future, I will find it. And the moment will be brought to a fullness of life thanks to that awareness.
Focusing on God in the present moment is an antidote to self-pity and despair. It gives one clearer vision, courage and energy in the face of life's troubles. Such an approach helps one to avoid even the smallest tension, anger and bitterness. Attention to God's presence dissolves them. I can help others because I am not focused on myself.
Live in the presence of God and you too will have the eyes of Abraham. Eyes that are always alert to the unexpected. Eyes that see God's actions in petty annoyances and even in tragedies. Eyes that trust. And eyes that continue seeking whenever they are tempted to turn inwards.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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