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Scott’s Column: Pay Attention

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
May 18 2020

During last Saturday’s Zoom Forum on Mental & Spiritual Well-being, retired therapist Nikki Zimmerman shared this bit of wisdom, “Pay attention to your body while you’re doing things.”  She added that “In the body there’s truth” and “take good care of your body” as a way for all of us to take care of ourselves during this season.

Last week in my column I asked “How can we better connect the experiences we are going through with the spiritual practices of the church?”  Which led into a discussion of the Dark Night of the Soul.  This week I want to focus on another spiritual practice–the practice of the presence of God.

That phrase–the practice of the presence of God–comes from the 17th century monk Brother Lawrence.  Lawrence was not the abbot or resident theologian of his abbey, he was the cook.  His letters were later collected and published under the title The Practice of the Presence of God, and they contain very practical spiritual wisdom.  Lawrence taught that prayer didn’t have to be something we did set apart from the mundane activities of life.  Instead, everything we do could be done as an exercise of God’s love.  Even the most absorbing work need not divert us from God.

Right now many of us are stuck in mundane routines.  Are we bored by our own cooking?  And doing the dishes?!

But Lawrence teaches us that even these can be spiritual exercises, connecting us with the love of God.

This idea has an affinity with mindfulness in Buddhist teaching–“an effort to train the mind through the cultivation of mindful awareness and attention to the present moment” (Lama Surya Das).

Last summer we spent four weeks in worship centered on the poet Mary Oliver who died in early 2019.   Oliver wrote in her volume of essays entitled Upstream that  “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”  Attention is the primary spiritual and human practice revealed in her writing.   She teaches us to attend to our natural world and the myriad creatures and happenings around us.  She also teaches us to attend to our own inner states, our physical bodies, and the body of our beloved.  We cannot begin to wonder at or to love that which we have not noticed, carefully.

Oliver’s poems are a summons to wonder and delight–a summons to be more fully human, to be more like God.  And wonder and delight are possible only if we pay attention.

In this moment many of us have abundant time to do precisely that, to pay attention–to the songs of bird, the blooming of flowers, the movement of the clouds, our own inner states.

I invite you to use this moment as an opportunity to deepen your spiritual practice.  Even while doing the dishes.