May 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 5)

In this little corner of the world we welcome spring, made all the sweeter by the relentlessness of the passing winter. So many treasures in nature are tiny, unassuming graces— diminutive wildflowers, wriggling tadpoles, crimson ladybugs, and the melodic double songs of the brown thrasher. To blink or hurry by is to miss them. We live in a smog of attention deficit disorder; I don't mean the children, but all of us on this treadmill of overstimulation. In this culture of too much, too busy, too distracted, too bombarded, can we learn to sift through the chaos and lift out the truly important? I have become almost obsessed with butterfly watching— luminous wings call to me as if to say, follow my flight path, sit patiently while I feel the sun's warmth on my wings, see how I unfurl my perfect little straw to sip this nectar. I want to learn how to focus on small, sacred moments that nurture the soul. This is how the poet Mary Oliver summarizes her instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

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The one persistent demand made upon us by the Spirit

Part of being human is to experience moments of true perception about those things that touch you so intimately that suddenly you see. What you see (or read or hear) at such moments has a ring of truth about it, not just of a general kind but as something that takes on a dimension and depth for you so that it becomes your truth. It seems to be making a claim on you. Such moments don't come often. Hold on to them. Cherish them until they become so much a part of you as to be second nature. For there is only one persistent demand made upon us by the Spirit. It is that we are receptive. That we keep our eyes open, our minds unclosed. It is, in short, that we retain all our lives our sense of wonder.

~ from THE SUNRISE OF WONDER by Michael Mayne
This Sunrise of Wonder
By Michael Mayne

The moment one gives close attention to anything

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

~ Henry Miller

The practice of paying attention is the rarest of gifts

The practice of paying attention is the rarest of gifts because it depends upon the harshest of disciplines. So uncommon is it for us to grasp the beauty and mystery of ordinary things that, when we finally do so, it often brings us to the verge of tears. Appalled by our own poverty, we awake in wonder to a splendor of which we had never dreamed.

~ from THE SOLACE OF FIERCE LANDSCAPES by Belden C. Lane, as reprinted in AN ALMANAC FOR THE SOUL by Marv and Nancy Hiles

In my life-long impatience, how much I have missed

In my life-long impatience, how much I have missed. Last night, washing the dishes, I really looked at my iron frying pan in the dishwater. The light made visible for a moment a tiny rainbow—a light through water revealing all the colors of life. It is so easy to miss the tiny symbols. Finding them is quite different from the business of trying to hatch up big symbolic experiences. It is RECOGNITION, not PURSUIT, of meaning—recognition of the sacramental, of the intersection of the two worlds, breaking through unsought because one is ATTENDING.

~ from SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS ARE MADE ON by Helen Luke

When you stop and pay attention

Maybe the burning bush was burning all the time and Moses didn't notice. Maybe the miracle is when you stop and pay attention.

~ from HOUSEHOLD SAINTS by Francine Prose
Household Saints: A Novel
By Francine Prose

Whenever she turned her steep focus to me

Whenever she turned her steep focus to me, I felt the warmth that flowers must feel when they bloom through the snow, under the first concentrated rays of the sun.

~ Janet Fitch

If I were to begin life again

If I were to begin life again, I should want it as it was. I would only open my eyes a little more...

~ Jules Renard

When I fully enter time's swift current

When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.

~ Ann Voskamp

The listening post of the universe

Because of my blindness, I had developed a new faculty. Strictly speaking, we all have it, but almost all forget to use it. That faculty is attention. In order to live without eyes it is necessary to be very attentive, to remain hour after hour in a state of wakefulness, of receptiveness and activity. Indeed, attention is not simply a virtue of intelligence or the result of education, and something one can easily do without. It is a state of being . . . a state without which we shall never know wholeness. In its truest sense it is the listening post of the universe.

~ from AGAINST THE POLLUTION OF THE I by Jacques Lusseyrann

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

All of my life has been a relearning to pray

All of my life has been a relearning to pray—a letting go of incantational magic, petition, and vain repetition ""Me Lord, me," instead of watching attentively for the light that burns at the center of every star, every cell, every living creature, every human heart.

~ Chet Raymo in NATURAL PRAYERS as quoted in EARTH'S ECHO by Robert Hamma
Natural Prayers
By Chet Raymo

Even the smallest moment is full of happiness

Each age has its own tasks. For most of us now, our monasteries have no walls except the silence our meditation gathers to the center of our lives, and this is enough—it is more than enough. Our hermitage is the act of living with attention in the midst of things; amid the rhythms of work and love, the bath with the child, the endlessly growing paperwork, the ever-present likelihood of war, the necessity for taking action to help the world. For us, a good spiritual life is permeable and robust. It faces things squarely knowing the smallest moments are all we have, and that even the smallest moment is full of happiness.

~ from THE LIGHT INSIDE THE DARK by John Tarrant, as reprinted in AN ALMANAC FOR THE SOUL by Marv and Nancy Hiles

Having new eyes

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

~ Marcel Proust

Keeping Silent Watch

When all striving ceases
I awaken to behold
Ever-present Awareness
Keeping silent watch.

~ Thomas Keating

I don't know exactly what a prayer is

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?

~ excerpt from Mary Oliver's The Summer Day