Sit up and pay attention please, dear reader

Pay attention please - how often that phrase has been heard.

Sometimes it is a prelude to an important announcement; sometimes an admonition to an inattentive driver; sometimes a reprimand to an mischievous schoolboy.

In each situation it underlines the importance of concentration.

Many years ago, the Michael Parkinson Saturday night talk-show, featured an American guest called Harry Lorraine.

His particular gift was his ability to remember names. As an experiment, Lorraine had been introduced to each member of the studio audience.

He had asked each person for their name, where they lived, and their relationship to anyone who had travelled with them to the show. During the transmission, and to demonstrate his skill, he asked each member of the audience to stand. Then he set about naming them, and as he did so, one by one, those named sat down.

At the end only a few remained standing. Then, with a triumphant flourish, he named the remainder; people with seemingly unpronounceable names, related to one another, but living in different parts of the world.

Asked by Parkinson for the secret of his skill, Lorraine observed that when he was introduced to someone, he gave them ‘an interested look.’ That’s the key. We remember the things we are interested in; a boy will know the names of the players on his favourite team, the car enthusiast will know the details of the horsepower of the latest model. Perhaps those who assert they are no good with names, aren’t interested enough!

The devotional writer, Simone Weil, once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

It says little for our friendship, if we are not willing to pay attention when others share their story or their worries.

Jesus frequently underlined the need to pay attention. Often he ended his parables by saying, ‘ He who has ears to hear , let him hear’. (Mark 4; 9). Indeed, the famous parable about a sower is really a parable about hearers, reflected in the differing responses to the preaching of the gospel. Pay attention to the gospel truth, for one day we shall have to answer for our response to it.