“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.“
– Mary Oliver, from her poem “Sometimes”
Lent is already a couple of weeks underway, but I’m going to suggest something for you to do during this season. I’m not going to suggest you give something up, though if you have, by all means carry on with it. But I want to suggest something to take up, something which will hopefully carry on through the rest of your life: pay attention.
We live in a world of distraction—cell phones, social media, Netflix binge watching, and the general hurriedness of life. Moments, minutes, hours, pass us by without us noticing, because we are in a preoccupied rush.
One writer says that “The present moment is the only moment we’ll ever have to live. It is here, and it will never come again.”** This writer notes additionally—and quite importantly—that God is found in the present moment, too.
In Genesis, after Jacob has the dream about the stairway to heaven, wakes up and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (Gen. 28:16). Of course we know that God is always “in this place,” but so often we miss the present moment, the moment where God is, because of our busy, distracted lives.
So I invite you to deliberate attention this season. Mary Oliver, who is quoted at the beginning of this post, is a poet, and poets pay attention for a living. Perhaps I am calling us to be poets for a season.
Below are some suggestions for paying attention. They may require you to give some things up for a time. They will certainly require you to slow down, to add a little margin to your life, to not hurry from one thing to the next:
- 5 minutes of undistracted silence and solitude every day (possibly first thing in the morning).
- Step outside and take a deep breath, look around you, listen (maybe go for a walk): what do you see? hear? smell? What do you notice?
- Pay attention to the world around you as you drive to town or to work or school, as you shop, as you wait in line. What do you notice—about the landscape, the people you encounter, the world around you.
- Pay attention to the life of Jesus by reading a Gospel.
And then turn the things you notice into prayer.
And to help you with that, I will leave you with one of my favourite poems (it’s on my office door). It’s called “Praying”, by Mary Oliver.
Praying (Mary Oliver)***
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
*”Sometimes” can be found in her collection of poems Red Bird or in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.
**Adele Calhoun, The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.
***”Praying” can be found in her collection of poems Thirst or in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.