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Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Practice Holy Attention!
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
Sometimes it is an intentional seeing. Sometimes it is pure grace. Sometimes it is a beauty so awe-evoking that you can’t help but settle into an appreciative gaze. Whatever it is that finally captures your attention, I invite you to name it holy.
There is no formula to the practice of holy attention. All that is required is your human body fully present to wherever it is. It helps if you notice what is for what it is and not expect it to be something else.
Once, when sitting on the ground at the beginning of spring, I picked up a perfect skeleton of a leaf. The fleshy centers were all gone, but a body of veins was perfectly intact. I held it with reverence and delicacy in my hand for whole minutes wondering how something so fragile could have survived the winter. I studied its details and felt the knots of anxiety within me loosen as I focused my attention outside of myself for once. To someone who has never taken the time to examine the skeleton of a leaf, it might be perplexing to say that I encountered nothing less than the presence of the incarnate God. If you are curious about how this is possible, I dare you to try it! In the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
It doesn’t have to be a leaf. It can be a cup of coffee, your dog or cat, the meal you are eating, the one you love, your child, a stranger, a whole tree! It can be literally anything or everything anywhere you are that you choose to really see. It feels like waking up. It feels like being alive.
An Altar In The World by Barbara Brown Taylor is an anthem to how the practice of paying attention, or waking up to the divine presence in all things, is at the core of all practices. She writes:
“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.”
After all my searching and straining and questioning and struggling and yearning to find God, I am learning that maybe the spiritual life really is that simple. God is here. Do you want to see? Then see.
Perhaps in wilderness times, whether Lent is one of those for you or not, this practice is even more difficult and necessary.
All of life takes place in the context of God’s presence. As the Psalmist reminds us, there is nowhere we can go where we are not in God’s Spirit (Psalm 139). Paying attention is the first step to waking up to God no matter where you are.
May you find a hundred reasons this week to notice the divine presence in the world around you… intentionally, as grace, in awe.
Wherever you are, pay attention! You are in the presence of the living God!