Pay Attention to the Lilies

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention… pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.

Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.

Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both.
~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark

I have broken the commandment to “consider the lilies” way too many times. In my daily life I am considering almost anything else: my own worries and concerns as I walk past so much beauty and meaning and holiness. My mind dwells within, blind and deaf to what is outside.

It is necessary to be reminded every day that I need to pay attention beyond myself, to be reminded to love my neighbor, to remember what history has to teach us, to search for the sacred in all things.

Stop, Look, Listen, Consider:
all is grace,
all is gift,
all is holiness brought to life – stunning, amazing, wondrous.

Between Midnight and Dawn: Not in Jest

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For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—
his eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen,
being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

 

Divinity is not playful.
The universe was not made in jest
but in solemn incomprehensible earnest.
By a power that is unfathomably secret,
and holy,
and fleet.
There is nothing to be done about it,
but ignore it,
or see.

~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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We weren’t conceived by random happenstance,
even those who are not welcomed
but wished or washed away before taking a breath.

We are here because we were earnestly needed and wanted,
by a power and divinity beyond comprehension
with a capacity for love and compassion
beyond anything in our earthly experience.

We aren’t a cosmic joke.
We aren’t pawns in the universe’s chess game.
We may look silly as we intentionally loll about in the smelly stuff of life,
or we may think what we say or do doesn’t matter a hill of beans,
but we are created to clearly see God for who He is,
and in whose image He made us.
He won’t be ignored;
we have no excuses.
It is time to open our eyes,
and see.

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To Notice Each Thing

photo by Joel DeWaarda Mt. Baker photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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The Old Testament book of Micah answers the question of why we are here with another:
“What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly,
and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?”
We are here to abet creation and to witness it,
to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed.
Together we notice not only each mountain shadow
and each stone on the beach
but we notice each other’s beautiful face
and complex nature
so that creation need not play to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from Life Magazine’s “The Meaning of Life”

 

I started out a noticer,
at seven tracing ant trails from their hills
branching out to various trees,
watching nests bloom with birds,
sitting as still as the lizard sunning himself on a rock.

Then something called adulthood happened,
and responsibilities and worries and cares,
and I stopped noticing any more.

Creation played to an empty house
and the empty house was me.

I’m back to noticing
smiling and nodding
applauding
hooting and hollering.
It’s a great show
and I’m both actor
and audience.

 

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Be Idle and Blessed

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Who made the world?

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver from “The Summer Day”

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