Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Schedule your day to see the sunrise or the sunset. Consider the extraordinary gift of life you have experienced in another day on Earth!
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.
“AWAKEN ME TO YOUR PRESENCE IN AND THROUGH ALL CREATION.”
by Dustin Davis
“The multiplicity of forms! The hummingbird,
the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the
otter, the dragonfly, the water lily! And
on and on. It must be a great disappointment
to God if we are not dazzled at least ten
times a day.”
– Mary Oliver “Good Morning, 5.”
In an interview I listened to recently, poet Mary Oliver said, “Attention without feeling is just reporting.” You don’t have to read many of Mary’s poems to know she is a woman who pays attention with a great deal of feeling. Her poems, often about common experiences or observations in nature, transcend mere reporting of the facts. Her writing elevates and is full of awe. She experiences the More just beyond the mundane. I don’t want to presume too much about Mary Oliver, but I like to think that she is an expert practitioner of Holy Attention, even if she might not call it that herself.
The other day I had an experience of Holy Attention. I was out for a walk just before sitting down to write a sermon. I had spent almost two weeks in preparation – much longer than my procrastinatory nature normally allows! – and I was rewriting the sermon in my head for the hundredth time before setting it to paper. I was in a space of heightened awareness, both mentally and spiritually, which characterizes Lent, when I stopped to watch a squirrel for no particular reason other than that it caught my eye.
The agility of this squirrel is quite amazing, how it moves so swiftly among a tangle of twigs. She stopped moving and is now sitting on her back legs, her tiny claws curled around a branch. She brings some nut or something to her mouth with the her front…are they paws? Arms? Hands? Her teeth go to work and make a squeaking chewing sound that is quiet distinct. The outer layers of the nut shell fall to the sidewalk below. Suddenly a bee hovers over a flower right near her. I feel nervous for this squirrel! I could never eat so calmly while a bee was so near! She, however, seems unfazed. The squirrel and the bee, eating together. What a world! Is she watching me, as I her, so intently with her shiny black eyes? I can’t tell. If she is, she doesn’t betray her curiosity. The meal is apparently over, and the bee flies away. The squirrel jumps to another branch without falter. A question emerges. Do I belong to this same world where a squirrel and a bee eat side by side, this marvelous, mysterious and wild world? An answer. Yes.
When we pay Holy Attention, whether purposefully or accidentally stumble upon it, we see with new eyes and hear with new ears. Isn’t this what our souls long for? Don’t we yearn to experience the More just beyond the mundane and discover that it isn’t mundane at all? Do we not thirst for meaning in our encounters with squirrels and neighbors? When we pay Holy Attention we cannot ever be blind or deaf. We will rejoice with God. We will suffer with God. We will seek peace and justice to alleviate that suffering. We will know God. And we will belong to the same world as the squirrel and the bee.