Resources

Paying Attention

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
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.

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Inviting God into your day (simple morning prayer)

It’s the time of year where many of us have committed to improving something in our lives or to develop better habits. Some of those commitments are large and some of them have been broken already! Here’s a suggestion for a simple habit to develop: first thing in the morning, before you do or say anything else, invite God into your day. This can be a short prayer you say as you sit on the edge of your bed, bedhead, half-open eyes and all (you don’t need to look or smell good to pray!)

Here are some suggestions for prayer. You can use individual ones or a combination (you may even want to start all of them with a “Good morning, Lord”):

  • “Lord, please walk with me through this day.”
  • “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you today.”
  • “May your will be done today.”
  • “Lord, I need your help to get through this day.”

You can, of course, come up with your own. Or you may want to pray something longer, such as The Lord’s Prayer or what some call the Jesus Creed.

This way you start your day in conversation with The One who gave you this day and it will serve as a reminder throughout your day of The One who is with you.

This is a simple practice you can teach to your children as well.

You might also want to end your day with a prayer reflecting on how God has answered or responded to your morning prayer. (In another post, I’ll tell you about the Prayer of Examen, which is one way you can reflect on your day with Jesus.)

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Is the Old Testament a complete mystery to you?

Sandra L. Richter, author of The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, has a diagnosis for many of us when it comes to the Old Testament: “dysfunctional closet syndrome.” Most of us have a drawer or closet in our homes where we throw all the random things we don’t know where to put and after a couple of years we’re not even sure what’s in there anymore. Similarly, many of us have grown up with a jumble of various Old Testament stories, stories which have been stuffed into our mental closets, and those closets can be quite a mess. These are stories which we can fairly easily recall but aren’t quite sure how or where they fit into the Old Testament or what they have to do with us.

The Epic of Eden is meant to help us put our Old Testament “closets” in order and to give helpful tools to keep them in order. She does this not by walking us through every detail in the Old Testament, but by highlighting and explaining the major themes, ideas, and turning points in the Old Testament by which we can grasp the larger whole. In this way, Richter help us to see how the Old Testament story flows, how it is intimately connected with the New Testament, and what it has to do with us as Christians.

The Bible is one of the primary ways in which we come to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and encounter Jesus Christ (John 5:39). Note that in both of these passages the scripture it’s referring to is the Old Testament! So reading, understanding, and meditating on scripture, including the Old Testament, is a significant part of being a disciple of Jesus. But that’s difficult to do if two-thirds of the Bible is a confusing mess! This accessible book will help put the pieces together for you and give you deeper understanding of the story of God’s love and faithfulness.

It’s not a difficult read and it’s not long (about 220 pages) and will help you understand the Bible better. There’s a copy available in the church library, or you can order it through Wisemen’s Way, Chapters/Indigo Books, or Amazon.

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Tractor Spirituality: Listen to a Podcast

Tractor Spirituality: spiritual practices for the seeder, the combine, the road, the shop, and the home.

Practice: listen to a podcast.

One thing you can do as part of your journey of discipleship is something you might call a practice of “guided listening.” That’s a fancy word for listening to a podcast, something you can do in the combine, on the road, in the shop, over lunch, or in bed. Podcasts can encourage, grow, and inspire your faith.

There’s a whole range of Christian podcasts out there to choose from—teaching, preaching, theology, current events, and many other topics—and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Below are two different kinds of podcasts that have been meaningful for myself and many other people. One engages the mind, the other engages the heart.

Unbelievable?: A weekly podcast featuring “apologetics, theology, debate, and dialogue” about various Christian topics. Be encouraged in your faith, hear different points of view, and be stretched in your thinking.
Website: www.premierchristianradio.com/unbelievable (also available through most podcasting apps).

Pray as You Go: a daily 12-minute guided prayer podcast featuring music, scripture reading, thought prompts and time for reflection and prayer. A great way to start your day!
Website: www.pray-as-you-go.org/ (also available as a standalone app and through podcasting apps).

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