THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE OF NOTICING AND APPRECIATING
Holy Attention, the spiritual discipline of noticing – of being intentionally aware of – God and His creation, draws us into fresh gratitude, recognizing His Hand in every atom of creation.
HOLY ATTENTION • EVERY MOMENT IS A GIFT
Every moment is a gift. As we learn to focus our attention on God and His creation, we begin to savor and drink deeply of His precious gift of time.
Holy Attention is the spiritual discipline of noticing – of being intentionally aware of – God and His creation.
Our God is a God of details who is present everywhere – in every cell, every breath, and every atom of creation. He counts the number of hairs on our heads Matthew 10:30, and knows every word on our tongues Psalm 139:4. He collects our every tear Psalm 56:8. God notices every detail about us.
We, however, are an easily distracted people, often unaware of Immanuel, God with us.
In Genesis 28, Jacob set out on a 550-mile journey to find a wife from among his own people. One night, as he slept, Jacob dreamed about a ladder connecting heaven and earth. In his dream, God promised Jacob descendants outnumbering the dust of the earth, promising, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go …”
When Jacob woke, he cried, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
… and I was not aware.
ARE WE AWARE OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN OUR LIVES?
How often do we move through an hour, a day, or even a week heedless of God’s Presence? We know in our heads He has promised:
- to never leave us and never forsake us Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5
- to be with us always Matthew 28:20
- wherever we go Joshua 1:9
- that nothing can separate us from His love Romans 8:38-39
Yet how often do we cry out, “Oh, God, where are You?”
HOLY ATTENTION • THE PRESENCE OF GOD
How easily we miss the Presence of God in our days. And how often we are inattentive and wholly unaware.
We might think it’s because we are flesh and blood, and God is not. Yet even the disciples who walked and talked and travelled and ate with the One who was fully man and fully God found it difficult to pay attention.
Jesus beseeched Peter, James, and John to keep watch with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, because His soul was “consumed with sorrow to the point of death” Matthew 26:38. Yet three times, they fell asleep, failing to keep watch, failing to pay attention.
They knew Jesus. He was right there with them. They could feel His anguish, and they still failed to keep watch. We are an easily distracted people, and learning to pay attention is a life-long pursuit, but one we can improve at with practice.
How do we do that?
We slow down and observe, intentionally noticing and learning little by little to pay closer attention.
HOW TO STEP INTO HOLY ATTENTION
EYE-SPY • A 5-MINUTE EXERCISE
Set a timer for five minutes, sit quietly, and observe everything around you. As you notice something, name it.
- Notice smells. Can you identify them?
- Name colors, patterns, and textures.
- Notice lines. Are they curvy or straight?
- What is the weather like today?
- Notice edges. Are they soft or sharp?
- What memories do the objects hold?
- Notice objects. Are they new or old?
- What kind of chair are you sitting in?
- Notice the air. Is it warm or cool, humid or dry? Is it moving?
- What do you feel?
- Notice sounds. Can you identify them?
- What kind of flooring is beneath your feet?
- Notice what you’re wearing.
- What kind of mood are you in? Are you tired or well-rested, restless or content, hungry or well-fed?
- Did you notice anything you’d forgotten about?
- What time of day is it? Or what month? What season?
- Did anything surprise you?
Try this exercise every day for a week. You can try it in the same place or choose several different places.
Let the wonder of creation draw you into worship of the One who created it all.
NOT ALONE • AN EXERCISE IN PEOPLE-WATCHING
People-watching can grow our appreciation of others’ unique personalities, abilities, skills, and gifts, as well as our empathy toward their pain and suffering. We are each a masterpiece of God’s creation.
Observing our fellow humans helps us learn to love one another better. When we truly see others, we grow in compassion toward and empathy for them, and it can inspire us too. Watching someone hold a door, return a dropped item, give up their seat for another, or even smile and offer a kind word, can encourage us to act more kinder too.
Noticing others can also be comforting and reassuring. When we wonder, “Is she a care-giver too? Was he up all night caring for a sick child or an ailing parent? Are they waiting for a test result? Is she quietly masking pain? Is he as lonely as I am?” It reminds us that we are not alone.
The next time you’re in a waiting room, checkout line, public park, or coffee shop, take a few minutes and observe others. Notice their expressions, how they interact, and how they navigate the surroundings.
QUESTIONS TO GET YOU STARTED
- Where are you?
- Why are you there?
- What time, season, and day of the week it is?
- How crowded is it?
- Do others seem distracted, relaxed, stressed, or in a hurry?
- Who catches your attention? Why?
- Are people alone or in groups?
- Is there music or a TV playing in the background?
- Are you surprised by anything?
- Do you feel prompted to pray for someone? If so, why?
People-watching reminds us that we are all on this crazy journey through life together. We are more similar than different and far better united than alone. Together, we are the Body of Christ on earth. And we need each other, because without even one of us, the Body is incomplete.
SIGHT & SCROLL • A 12-HOUR EXERCISE
Choose something specific – a color, shape, sound, object, or even an idea (joy, anger, excitement, anxiety) – and look or listen for it throughout your day. When you find it, take a picture of it, or make note of it.
At the end of the day, scroll through your pictures and read through your list. What do you notice? Does anything stand out to you? What surprised you?
Thank God for the incredible complexity of His creation.
SPOT 1 • A ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE
Every day for the next year, write down just one thing you notice. It can be something you see, hear, taste, smell, feel, learn, experience, or even remember. God is present everywhere, always, and it’s through paying attention that we begin to recognize His Hand in every atom of creation.
FEAST • SAVORING THE WORD OF GOD
Eighteenth century Scottish church leader, theologian, and philosopher, Thomas Boston wrote, ”Read with a holy attention, arising from the consideration of the majesty of God, and the reverence due to him. This must be done with attention, first, to the words; second, to the sense; and, third, to the divine authority of the Scripture, and the obligation it lays on the conscience for obedience.”
In other words, as you read the Bible, be expectant, immerse yourself in the language, look at a verse from a variety of perspectives, and study it long enough to learn something new.
We often learn best through experience, so let’s try an example. Turn to Isaiah 35:5-7 and ask God what He wants to show you.
As you read through these verses, notice the imagery, patterns, and line breaks. Notice what the verses say will happen and why.
Read the passage again, this time aloud. Listen to the words, the music of the language itself and it’s deeper meaning. Next, think through the questions that follow.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
- What is the tone or feeling of this passage?
- What purpose does the punctuation at the end of each line serve?
- Which words caught your attention?
- Which phrases give you pause?
- Were you surprised by anything in this passage? If so, what?
- What is God saying to you through these verses today?
These three verses from the book of Isaiah are filled with rich and vivid imagery. God sees His people and His world, and He cares deeply about each. God has a plan. He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. And He will, in His own time and in His own way, heal His children’s afflictions, relieve the earth’s lack, and quench creation’s collective thirst.
Eye-Spy • People Watching
Windows & Trees • Poetry Prompt
Look out a window. Write what you see. Write what you don’t see but know is true. Arrange your words into a poem. You can blossom even if you are afraid.
Sight & Scroll • Spot 1 • Feast
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In the overlooked moments and routines of our day, we can become aware of God's presence in surprising ways. How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred? Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something ― making the bed, brushing teeth, losing keys. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship.
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Does your life ever feel like one series of rushed moments after another? Do you want to feel more present and connected to those you love? Is it possible to listen without thinking the whole time of what you’re going to say next? Do you want to feel less distracted, less busy, and more whole? Most of us spend our distracted lives longing to get to the next, better moment and fail to notice the present one. We lack space between one task and the next, one thought and the next, one email and the next.