Today, I want to invite you to engage in “noticing.”
This is the time of year that my wife and I pay attention for signs of spring. Our bodies begin to press back against the deep chill, and we look for any hints of life. A sprig of green grass left over from the past year; a small pot of tulips bring color to the grey-light days.
It is a time when we sharpen our ability to notice.
Easter is a time of noticing. We enter Lent paying attention to the ashes of Wednesday, and soon the darkness of Good Friday and the grave-still quiet on Saturday. Then we wait. And we watch.
The resurrection stories are all about noticing. The men on the way to Emmaeus didn’t notice – or can’t, as a result of their grief – that Jesus is with them. Mary noticed the gardener only to discover he was just the Jesus she was looking for. Thomas notices the wounds of Jesus, up close and personal.
I find a distinct lack of noticing in my own life over the last months.
To create, to live, and to contemplate the presence of God requires that we notice the things around us. The point of the noticing is to begin to see the intersection of the mortal stuff of our life and the constant presence of God.
Today, I noticed that cleaning up the breakfast dishes gave a sense of order to the day. Is it possible that God filled that brief moment with wisdom?
I also noticed that the sun came up with an orange-purple glow, colors that can’t be artificially reproduced. What does that mean?
In driving home from the gym early this morning, my body felt the weight of rising and exertion in a distinctly new way. What is God asking me to confront in my growing soreness and deflation?
The way we live with God in the world – to abide, as Jesus says – is to accept the invitation to a life of noticing. I don’t believe the life of noticing is something we simply start, however.
To live a life of noticing means to engage in the practice of noticing. I find three steps helpful in noticing what’s happening around me.
The past few months included a lot of motion. We balanced health challenges in our family with preparation for new projects along with caring for school and extracurricular activities. I believe we all have seasons where we are simply moving constantly.
To notice means we have to slow down (at worst) or find a way to stop and focus. Imagine a car driving through a scenic countryside. You see the waving alfalfa, the preserved-yet-worn barns, but there are a plethora of details that go unseen because of the speed at which we pass them.I suggest taking three moments out of every day and focus on something around you. Whether it is the child in front of you, playing contentedly or the pile of files waiting to be dealt with, stop and pay attention to whatever is around you.
Any thoughts of other “to-do” items that come to mind, write them down for later. Focus instead on slowing your thought process and looking at what is happening right here and now.
To look is to apply the miracle of sight to that which surrounds us, sure, but it is also to look with our spirit. In other words, we take in the information and the rods and cones in our eyes do their job, but the “looking” isn’t done. We then say, “So what does this mean? What do I do with this?” In the case of contemplation and seeing the reality of God in the present, we say “What is God drawing me to notice about what I see?”
Looking comes after stopping because distractions are easier to come by.
Even now as I write this post, my phone dings indicating a voicemail. It’s Sarah from Amazon wanting to present me with a great career opportunity. Thanks but no thanks, Sarah.
I don’t have to manufacture distraction. If I want to notice the world, and experience the miracle of God in the present, the harder work is the stopping and looking.
The temptation with this practice is to move to practicalities immediately.
Ok, I stopped and I looked. Got it. I think God is doing something in my relationship with my child. Not sure. What do I do now?
We are an action-oriented people, more often reaction-oriented people, and so the natural impulse is to say “Now what?” If we move to action too quickly however, we can miss the contours of what God is actually bringing to our attention.
The step of listening is important because sitting with our noticing produces deep and lasting insights into God and his presence.
Sure, we may have an instant step to take after we stop and look. Yet those steps can be unwise, hurried, or incomplete if we don’t give time to listening to what we’ve noticed. I suggest taking a deep breath and writing down everything you notice about the moment you have in mind.
Next, we take a moment of quiet and ask this question: “God, what all is in this moment?” and “What are you inviting me to deal with?”
The practice of noticing and the life that comes from it takes time. I look forward to my own road this month of stopping, looking, and listening. I invite you to do the same.