August 19, 2021
I recently came across a quotation from John O’Donohue that made me stop. He wrote, “Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore. An interesting question to ask yourself at night is, ‘What did I really see this day?’”
What did I really see this day in my own familiar world? To what did I stop and truly attend? What did I notice right in front of me? To be honest, I think I go through most of my days rather blindly, so I have tried to pay attention to those common, every day, familiar items that are, in fact, miracles of their own.
Take, for instance, the tomato I had with breakfast this morning. Not a single mar on its perfect skin. I watched as the keen edge of the knife sliced through it to reveal the rich red fruit inside, which only a summer tomato can hope to yield. I attended to how I sliced it, evenly, instead of hacking it quickly. I “saw” a tomato, and it was wondrous.
Now I see the rain coming down. It creates a misty veil across the landscape and runs freely against the curb. My mother used to say raindrops in puddles looked like the marching feet of soldiers, and I see that, too.
I remember looking at the sky yesterday and noticing two cumulous clouds that resembled a puppy kissing a little girl on the nose. What magic! Today, I see a solid slate of gray, the proverbial wet blanket hanging over the city, but in pockets among the trees on the hills, steam pools like miniature hot springs.
I reflect on O’Donohue’s quotation and think of the person with whom I live and the friends that I visit. How much do I truly see them? I know the color of my partner’s eyes (thank God!) but I couldn’t say with complete confidence what color my friends’ eyes are. Yet, how many times have I looked them in the face? What fabulous palettes of color have I missed while sharing our lives?
The playwright Henry Miller wrote, “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” What do I tend to give attention to? Bad news. The dumbfounding actions (or inactions) of others. Getting through another day Covid-free. All these things are reality. Yet while the philosopher George Santayana acknowledged that reality, he also reminded us that the world is “shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms.”
I believe part of our journey as spiritual beings is to incorporate those practices that help the spirit to bloom. Our wisest religions and philosophies stress the importance of paying attention, starting with paying attention to what we are paying attention to! When we become too familiar, we lose awe, humility, and gratitude. Great losses, indeed, for each one of us and for our world.
In this current season of so much uncertainty, noise, confusion, and angst, O’Donohue’s question is a centering one: “What did I really see today?” There is time to look. There is time to pay attention, no matter how time-strapped or worry-obsessed we have convinced ourselves we are. Who knows how that glimpse of one familiar object might wake us up, might fill us with wonder, might cause us to give thanks, might help transform our world? Even a mockingbird is worth the time to see.
Seeing with you. ~ Blessings, Rosemary
Mockingbird on Sunday Morning
If birds speak in tongues
then surely does the mockingbird
attired in clerical grays
and whites suitable
for Sunday worship.
This morning, a male lifts
his frenzied, praise-filled song
in notes of cardinal,
blue jay, wren, and titmouse
in constant, raucous
by the sun’s early rays
the first breath of a new day
or the female mockingbird
high in a limb
cocking her head
in anticipation of just
the right melody
that praises her.
(c) Rosemary McMahan