Lent 4: Paying Attention

What all this clearing and cleaning and sorting of spaces during Lent is doing is teaching me something about what kind of consumer I am: an unconscious one! I find myself asking how is it possible to have three of the same oversize bottle of the same vitamin supplement, all partially used, two of which have expired? in what culinary concoction did I imagine I would use this exotic spice? when might I expect to use up the value-pak of various kinds of paper and notes I so earnestly purchased when I worked in an office several years ago? who told me that this gadget would solve all my organization issues and set me free?

So much to dump! So much to recycle! and what was I thinking? In my Lenten reflecting as I sift, sort and jettison, I have to face the fact that I have not been mindful, not been thinking; inattention that has led to all this accumulation. Nothing in my spaces is wrong in itself; expired, maybe, but not toxic or damaging. And in this instance, I have not hoarded out of fear or anxiety. What I have not done is be mindful: mindful of what I already have, mindful of what is no longer useful, mindful of what could better be used by someone else who needs it.

I recognize how that lack of attention slops over into my spiritual practice as well. Here’s a NEW  book on prayer. Here is a NEW practice by a new author or speaker. Even, here is a NEW slant on observing Lent. Let me add those to the already stuffed shelf, cubby and closet of resources.  I know that introduction to new ways of seeing and healing and doing can be life-giving, but not if I am pursuing them because it is more exciting and easier than to keep practicing the ones I have not really mined in depths, that I already have been given by way of spiritual practice. I want to be thoughtful and attentive to sacred text, to being still before the Holy, to offering prayers of gratitude and prayers of longing and need to the One who loves all of creation, rather than try to learn a NEW practice for the sake of diversionary thrill or novelty or forgetfulness.

The poignant gospel story from Gesthsemane of the three disciples trying to be present to Jesus as he struggles in prayer echoes in my heart today. He asks them to, “Stay and awake, and to pray.” I do not always stay awake to the accretion of material things in my abiding place, nor to the spiritual practices that can deepen and feed me even when they get routine, quotidian, so familiar I don’t even really notice them. This clearing out practice in Lent is calling me to a mindfulness of what I have, what I have been given, what is not necessary, and then to listen and act in prayer for the wisdom and strength to use what I have for the God’s healing of the world.

 

About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who pens beautiful reflections on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.

  • http://downwardmobility.net Bill Britton

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. I want to be more mindful myself, and eliminate distractions too. I once moved from a three bedroom house (just me and the dog) to an efficiency apartment, getting rid of a ton of stuff, and I didn’t miss any of it, but I did feel much more free.

  • Lynette DuClos Adelson

    I thought I had been doing pretty well at mindful accumulating (oxymoron?) until I watched our 25 year old son pack one backpack for two months in southeast Asia! Thank you, Elizabeth, for your generous, self-revealing sharing.

  • Erin

    >>rather than try to learn a NEW practice for the sake of diversionary thrill or novelty or forgetfulness.<<

    Oh my, this entire post poked at my rough edges. thank you. don't we all do that mindless accumulating to some degree? I am, however, getting better and stopping and closing my eyes and imaging how I would actually use that "thing" and more times than not, skipping a purchase. Progress!


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