Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: See the mystery of God in another person. (Talk to that person!)
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 Katie Harmon-McLaughlin
One of my favorite mystic texts is from the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. He describes an experience of being in the middle of a city, surrounded by people, and suddenly seeing- really seeing– the divine life within each one. “There is no way of telling people,” he writes, “that they are all walking around shining like the sun… The gate of heaven is everywhere.”
In spiritual direction training, I am learning that every person is the mystery of God before me. Essential to companioning someone else in the spiritual life is the cultivation of a holy curiosity toward others. This includes releasing a critical gaze and avoiding the temptation to fix. The role of a spiritual director is simply to notice, in love, God’s movement within another life.
Though I am learning this specific discipline (spiritual direction), this wisdom permeates every encounter with others, known and unknown. I am still a novice at noticing the God-life within other people, but the goodness that grows from this way of seeing is so heart-satisfying that I crave more. In the words of Thomas Merton, it is like “waking from a dream of separateness”.
The phrase holy curiosity stirs challenge and wonder within me. It does not imply a general gaze at others honoring them as sacred (though that is also a meaningful practice!). Holy curiosity implies investment in relationship. It is about seeing God in another life by discovering who they are in their particularities. Barbara Brown Taylor describes this type of encounter:
“What we have most in common is not religion, but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get- in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing- which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery. The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.” (p.102, An Altar In The World)
This practice is not always easy. It can take time to cultivate holy curiosity toward others, and great effort when it comes to people we struggle to love. It can be most challenging, and maybe most important, to be holy curious about those who are least like you.
In a world that often feels fractured by political and religious polarization, what healing could it bring if we really began to see the mystery of God within every person?
And perhaps it is healing also to realize this God-mystery resides within you as well.
There is no way of telling you that you are walking around shining like the sun.
Let’s awaken from this “dream of separateness” together and move toward one another in love.
“The wisdom of the Desert Fathers includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self… It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.” (p.93, Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar In The World)