Fouls, Free-Throws and Paying Attention

December 17, 2009

in Reflections on the Life of Faith

Boxscore

I was recently asked to serve as an official scorer at a basketball game. Evidently one of the coaches saw in me that rare ability to be objective and clear-headed – that unusual capacity to be fair and impartial.

Either that, or I was the first parent he ran into that morning.

I was scoring for a fourth-grade tournament game, and the truth is I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I’m not a huge basketball fan, and I hadn’t ever had any training in how to score a game.

It turns out it isn’t actually too difficult – at least not at the 4th grade level. Record the points for each player and team. Record the individual and team fouls. Let the refs know when a team hits seven or ten team fouls. At seven, the fouled team gets a free throw. At ten, the fouled team gets two.

That was actually the only part I messed up – I had been keeping track of individual fouls, but forgot to add them to the foul tally for the team. Thankfully, it didn’t have any effect on the outcome of the game.

I think.

Ok. There was another part I blew, too. I accidentally gave two points to number 23 on the guest team, rather than the home team. So, for a while, the official score – which I was keeping – and the electronic scoreboard – which a high school sophomore was taking care of – weren’t synched up. Thankfully, with the help of the high-school student, I got it straightened out before the end of the game.

“Pay attention,” Frederick Buechner writes. “As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that. And as a talisman or motto for the journey in search of a homeland, which is what faith is, I would settle for that too.”

More than the mistakes, though, what struck me most as I kept the score was how I found myself paying such close attention to the game. To the players coming in and out. To who was making the shots. To who was fouling. I noticed little details like how the ref had a rubber band that he moved from his right wrist to his left wrist to keep track of the possession arrow. Maybe that’s how they all do it. If it is, I never knew until that morning.

The life of faith is a lot like that, too. Paying attention, I mean. God is all around us. The challenge is to open our eyes to his presence. Not just at the supposedly big or important or profound moments, but the little moments. The everyday moments. The quiet and inconspicuous moments.

Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors, says that it is impossible to overestimate the importance of paying attention in the life of faith. “Pay attention,” he writes. “As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that. And as a talisman or motto for the journey in search of a homeland, which is what faith is, I would settle for that too.”

And again: “Pay attention to the unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The strange coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Even the smallest events hold the greatest clues.”

Pay attention, he says, because “in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Question: How do you pay attention?

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