On Paying Attention

It’s a late summer evening as I walk down the hill toward Boston Harbor. Jupiter is shining high in the sky, as bright as the street lamp in front of me, yet millions of miles away.

I’m learning to pay attention.

In a recent interaction online, I read these: “Does anyone else feel like they’re in constant transition mode? What helps you keep a good attitude amidst all the changes?”

I responded with these words: “What helps me keep a good attitude? Paying attention. Paying attention to the feelings – they are valid, they are important. Don’t dismiss them for the “this world is not my home” mantra. Pay attention to your surroundings, buy the flowers, buy the bookshelf even if you only use it for six months. Buy the tapestries and beauties from your host country. Pay attention – to beauty and chasing beauty. Jesus cares about place and space. He was born into time and space so of course it is important. That’s my advice from a longing heart living in my 34th house.”

While the post was clearly on transition and temporary home, it got me thinking about paying attention. I thought I knew how to pay attention. I thought I was good at it, but I realize that I’ve needed to be retaught.

With my focus on slow worrying and quick distractions, I’ve forgotten how to pay attention.

My need to pay attention begins with my surroundings. The beauty, the broken, the city sounds and streets, the mid-September blooms, the shorter days. Mornings with their chill, middays with the sun, and cool dusk scented with oncoming Autumn (and let’s be honest, also pot because we are in the city and it is now a legal drug.) Paying attention to the physical world around me is a start.

I then move to the people around me – family, neighbors, colleagues, friends both near and far. What do I really know about their lives? Their hopes? Their dreams?

But in all that, I neglect an important piece of paying attention – the ways I respond, my irrational anger when certain things happen, my heart’s longing. It’s an ironic paradox that the more I ignore or neglect these things, the more they overtake my life and time.

And so I’m paying attention. I’m paying attention to the anger – what’s behind it? I’m paying attention to the longing – why after all this time, after 34 houses, does it suddenly feel critically important? I’m paying attention to my responses – are they reflecting something bigger that’s going on? What do I need to do to heal, to grow, to move forward?

Above all I’m paying attention to God. Do I really respond as one who is beloved by God? Do I lift my heart to him each day, asking him to tell me who I am instead of bending toward others? Am I dealing with the same things that I’ve been dealing with for years, with no change?

I’m not sure of all the answers to those, but I’m paying attention so I can learn.

And, as the gentle teacher that he is, God’s spirit comforts me through beauty and grace, considering the lilies and late blooms, basking in late summer, and learning yet again that he is good.

4 thoughts on “On Paying Attention

  1. Paying attention is a spiritual practice….it fosters curiousity and a contemplative posture! When we pay attention we also catch glimpses of God himself– in the light breeze coming off the lake, in the call of a bird above my head in the tree, in the pause while I wait for the kettle to boil. It’s like the Holy One plays peek-a-boo with us! He pops up in the cracks in the sidewalk, in the laugh of a child, in a neighbour’s wave, in the beauty of the moment— and he says, “here I am—with you!” Paying attention to our longings and our emotions also invites us into the presence of God—- Here he is—with us —even in the quiet pains, small joys, turbulent rages— He sits with us in those storms too. He pays attention to our scattered selves and He says, “It’s ok. I see you. I’m with you.

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  2. I’ve always known you can run but you can’t hide, but I forget. “Am I dealing with the same things that I’ve been dealing with for years, with no change?” Good question, cousin. Actually, an excellent question. I love you for it. And I love you for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Right on, dear Marilyn. How difficult to “Pay Attention” in these days! Sometimes I think my mind is much like an ever changing *kaleidoscope; always moving around. And unsettled. There are just too many competing and conflicting demands. Romans 12:2 is a challenge: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then…”

    *may not be the best example :).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a relevant piece just now. We are all being rushed to move forward after a horrible 18 months but there is still so much to process- thank you for sharing your thoughts. Trying to fix my eyes on Jesus- He doesn’t change-& in the changes in nature that reveal His creativity & attention to detail in place and time🙌🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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