Sacred Attentiveness: A 2017 Practice
Have you ever had the patience to sit still and watch as one of God’s creatures goes about its normal business?
Not a dolphin show or a dog doing tricks—not entertainment for us highly distractible human beings. I am talking about creaturely normalcy, for a turtle or a squirrel or a spider.
Consider for a moment their capacity to focus on what really matters—food, home, awareness of their surroundings, knowing the true difference between friend and foe, being ever ready to protect and defend when needed, and being always watchful for the provisions they actually need.
These creatures are immediate to their lives and actively engaged in a world that gives them what they need and teaches them how to take care of themselves.
Observe a creature for long and you will witness even tenderness and probably some chilling harshness. You may see suffering and delight, even glimpses of something like awe and trust, and moments of self-sacrifice and single-minded love.
In 2016 such brushes with creatures who know and are simply themselves saved me from despair and complete disorientation countless times.
If you know me even a little bit or even if you are just paying a tad bit of attention to what is going on in the larger world, then you understand why despair and complete disorientation were live options for me (and maybe for you, too) at several junctures.
As 2017 unfolds, I want to expand this practice of attentiveness to do more than just save me from despair and disorientation. My prayer is that practiced attentiveness to God’s creation can nourish my capacity to be at home in the world, in my life, in my connection to all things. My prayer is that this practice can generate more shared vitality and wellbeing, not simply survival skills.
This practice needs to generate self-reflection if I am willing to live into the proper nature of what it means to be human. Socrates said it best: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How can practiced attentiveness make human life more worthy of its proper nature, which is interdependence, regeneration, growth, and wisdom?
What if a hummingbird or an orb spider or a horse stopped to observe this human being in my normal everydayness? What would they see? How immediate am I to what I truly need, to the contours of my surroundings, to real threats to my wellbeing or even to my life, to what truly matters? How well do I know myself and how to get what I need?
What would my creature cousins make of my intermittent scrolling through snapshots and sound bites on my electronic appendage? (You know the thing we call “smart” but that is probably making us all learn helplessness more than anything else.) What would they make of all the waste I generate that goes to no life-giving purpose? What would they make of my periodic confusion about what I really need and my penchant for habits that distort my sense of self?
I hope they would watch long enough to witness the joy I feel in creativity and my capacity to learn and grow. I hope they would catch a glimpse of my fidelity to the beings I love and my reverence for Transcendence and Beauty.
What would they see in you? Maybe they would see someone you, yourself, would have trouble recognizing or someone you wouldn’t have the patience to be attentive to over the long haul.
Maybe they would encounter someone courageous enough to be still in your own skin for a few minutes in a row. And maybe we all could learn to be present to a moment in which we human beings are trustworthy sojourners with the others with whom we share this planet.
In 2017 may we all embrace the attentive creature within us, and make room to receive from the fertile and fragile world we call home.