Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
As we continue on our journey through the book An Altar in the World, this week we look at the practice of paying attention. I decided that if I was to write about paying attention, perhaps I should try this practice first. I started small in my mind and walked around my back yard to pay attention to what was around me. Turns out, this practice is not as easy as I first thought. As I walked around, just trying to pay attention, I got distracted. I got distracted by the things that I should do in the yard, distracted by my phone, distracted by my own wondering thoughts.
But once I let go of what was wandering around my brain to just…be…and pay attention to what was in front of me, the world really opened up. I could notice the new growth on the trees and bushes. I could notice the insect life just starting to reemerge in the spring. I could notice the brilliant color and even the little nooks and crannies of the yard. This is what Brown Taylor would call reverence and sacrament. The sense of awe that comes out of us is true reverence. The connection to our inner spiritual lives creates sacrament with what we are observing and living into. All of this comes in the package of paying attention.
Brown Taylor says this, “The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore. To see takes time, like having a friend takes time. It is as simple as turning off the television to learn the song of a single bird. Why should anyone do such things? I cannot imagine – unless one is weary of crossing days off the calendar with no sense of what makes the last day different from the next. “
When we open ourselves to this possibility, we can’t help but find God in these places as well. The practice of paying attention adds a reverence that reminds us that there is something out there bigger than ourselves. The writer of Psalm 23 seemed to have this practice down by the way our writer speaks of their surroundings. When we allow ourselves to see God guiding us along the way, we can’t help but see all of the other lush valleys, the still water, and give up our fear. Our souls fill with reverence, awe, wonder, and gratitude that we can’t help but sing of each detail in our walk with the Creator.
Not only does our world transform, but paying attention can heal. When we pay attention to the stars for a while, something in our soul mends. When we delight with a small child, something in us rejoices again, we can’t help it. Listening for the world to wake up, prolongs our life.
Not only do we see the world differently, we also get to see one another differently. By paying attention, that one person that drives you completely crazy may connect with you in a totally different way if you pay attention to their humanness. While waiting in line somewhere, perhaps try this, think of each person and where they might be going. For example, look at the guy with the paint stains on his pants as someone with a story. Or the girl with the crazy tattoo might just be someone you want to get to know instead of ignore in your day. Yes, this takes time but where would you rather be?
Quotes for the Week
“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.” Paulo Coelho
“The capacity for delight is in the gift of paying attention.” Julia Cameron
“By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.” Albert Schweitzer
“If everything is amplified, we hear nothing.” Jon Stewart
“Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection.” Barbara BrownTaylor
Psalm 23 (NRSV) A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
You make me lie down in green pastures;
you lead me beside still waters;
you restore my soul.
You lead me in right paths
for your name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surelygoodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
John 10:11-18 (The Message)
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.”
Questions for the Week
What made you stop to pay attention lately?
What would you like to pay attention to this week?
Where do you find yourself in awe and wonder?