What Does It Mean To Be A People of Attention?
Alice Walker famously wrote, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
Walker’s words are a great reminder that attention and gratitude go hand in hand. Indeed, they are a perfect embodiment of the dominant message about attention: that it’s here to wake us up to life’s many gifts.
But it’s also important to remember that attention has a few ulterior motives up its sleeve. So, some fair warning is required this month. Because attention won’t just make you grateful, it will make you fall in love. And it won’t just allow you to notice life’s gifts, it also makes it impossible to ignore life’s pain.
First, the love part.
Mary Oliver writes, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” It’s a beautiful way of saying you cannot love something that you do not really see. Love simply isn’t possible without deep noticing. And noticing deeply seems to inevitably lead to love. Glances and self-interested attention never get to the real person. They stay on the surface and treat the other as a mirror. What you fall in love with is how they make you feel and how they enhance your statue with others. Which means that all you’ve really done is fall in love with yourself. Loving them, truly them, requires noticing your needs and then putting them down. It asks you to look without expectation of who you want or hope they will be, and instead try to focus simply on who they are right now. It’s a type of looking that keeps on looking until you discover something entirely new, entirely other, entirely and uniquely them. And once you notice something that uniquely new, you’re in trouble, because you will most definitely be devoted. You will no longer think about what you’re getting. You will only want to give.
And now the pain part, which is not all that different from the love piece.
This time it’s a UU minister, Rev. Sean Dennison, that captures it best. Sean writes “The ability to see beauty is the beginning of our moral sensibility. What we believe is beautiful we will not wantonly destroy.” In other words, once we notice the beauty at the heart of others and the world, it pains us to see it destroyed. So, seeing the beauty of something comes with a commitment. You don’t just think to yourself “Oh, that’s pretty,” you think “My God, I must protect it.” Its survival becomes your survival. Its pain becomes your pain.
All this is to say that we should expect to feel grateful this month. But, also, don’t be surprised if you end up feeling devoted as well. Again, attention doesn’t simply help you notice all you’ve been given; it also makes you fall in love and demands that you give of yourself. So consider yourselves warned, friends: True attention always comes at a cost, because real looking always results in you not being able to look away. Often for the better.
This month may that be true for you!
Ready to engage in this theme on a deeper level? Follow the link to your Soul Matters November Packet. https://www.soulmatterssharingcircle.com/uploads/9/4/5/0/94501751/sm_2019-11_sg_attention.pdf
Are you parenting? Remember to access the Soulful Home Packet at the following link. In it you will find explorations of our monthly RE theme and awesome resources for creating full week faith in your home.
May you find Joy in your Journey,