Focus

I am having a hard time focusing this summer! Even though I am no longer traveling, and trying to attend to hearth and home, to what is local and in front of me, I am enormously distracted and all over the place in my thinking and affections. The world is swirling in pain, in division and in need. People I love are careering around the world from one fascinating place to another, and taking their friends with them in narrative and image. Lists of the Summer’s Best–books, movies, music–occupy pride of place in what I read and observe. It seems to be the season for activated fund raising of every kind–charity, politics, and churches trying to make budget. Where is a person to focus? How is a person to decide which one is a call? And how do I keep myself from being distracted?

I have always loved William Blake, 18th C. poet and engraver. His monotype of Sir Isaac Newton, on view in the Tate Britain in London, was intended to be a criticism of the Enlightenment, a period in which processes of reason and logic began to supplant the Romanticism of the previous era with which Blake felt to resonant. In 1988, the British Library commissioned a bronze sculpture based on Blake’s etching, rendered by Sir Edward Paolozzi of Scotland, to be placed in its entry court; my guess is that it is more of an affirmation of Newton’s rational attention, than Blake’s romantic dissent.  When I first saw it this spring, I was overwhelmed first with its size and its intensity, and then with the way that even though it was an ekphrastic rendering of Blake’s initial work, it emphasized a completely different quality of knowledge and activity–that of seeking to do one thing only with all one’s body and mind.

In this summer of what we in California call “June Gloom” of the spirit, I long for that kind of attentiveness in my own spirit and the practices I choose to nourish and to energize it. I hear Jesus say to Mary: One thing is necessary! Yet I am finding even as I write this blog that many things are necessary–conversations that communicate clearly the work that must be done; tasks which support the welfare of my person, the household, even the city; stewardship of people and things given to my hand to shepherd and nurture. Where do I focus? In my musings I have found that I am pushed back to the most basic of spiritual practices that I know—that of being still and waiting for the mud to settle. Before I can focus on the one thing I am asked to do in this moment, today, this summer, I have to focus on my listening to and for the Spirit. And out of the truth that becomes clear when I do that, I see that my distraction lies not in the number of things that there are to do, but in the myriads of bright and shiny detours that lure me away from the call of the moment. In silence, in contemplation, in meditation on the sacred text, I can begin to hear the Word, the direction, the choice I need to make. It seems counter-intuitive: with so much going on, how can I stop to listen? Yet my heart knows that if I don’t stop to listen for the one thing necessary, the voice of the Beloved, the voice of the Teacher, I find myself racing down on rabbit trails that are delightfully attractive, but have taken me far away from the call of the day.

Focus me, O Holy One…into the silence, diminish the noises and images and sensations that do not belong to today, and bring all parts of my being to attending to the Word you give to me in this moment. Amen.

About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who writes on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture, and what is happening in the world--hers, her neighborhood, the Church and the world. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.


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