Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Paying Attention?

Perhaps if you have read my first novel, To Dance In the Desert, you'll remember something my terminally ill character, Glenda said: "If you pay attention, five minutes is enough."

Confession: Glenda said that, I didn't. At the time, I had no idea what she meant by it, but she insisted, and I wrote.

But I think it's a little clearer now.

I write this post at the end of a long day, so I'll tell you now that the threads I'm about to lay on the table won't connect in any obvious way, not till I braid them together.

Here's the first:
On Monday, wise Debbie suggested we "spend time away from writing and reading and being connected to social networking in order to feed that place where great stories originate."

The second:
In his nonfiction book, Nudge, Leonard Sweet suggests that every time Jesus says "Verily, verily" in The Gospels, he really is saying, "Pay attention."

In fact, Sweet goes on to say something worth cross-stitching into a tea towel:
"You are what you pay attention to ... In a world of inattentiveness, a world that goes largely unregarded, it is the special mission given to humans to bring the world to life. How do we save the world? How do we keep the world alive? Through loving attention. … by 'tending and tilling,' naming and cherishing the tiniest part of what God has created." 

(I wish I could tell you more of what he says about paying attention, without pushing the fair-use laws into a breakdown.)

Before I pull in the third thread, let's twist these two together a bit:

My spiritual walk of the last few years has led me to reflect again and again how few things are about me. How much of life - real life, my own life - lies outside my skin. How life experiences that differ from mine might create an experience of life far different from my own. How people send signals to say things they have no words for - to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

I have often been frustrated by my failure to write a third book - and I still mean to do that. But the moments in this past year I have managed to catch the view outside my skin have enthralled me enough to lessen the pain.

Here's the third thread: In case you haven't met her before, I'm going to introduce you to a woman named Vivian Maier, who paid attention. By design, she had no audience till after her death. The audience seemed to matter far less than the seeing.

She's a hero of mine. And while I'm glad that someone at last allowed me to be her audience, and I'm grateful that many wonderful authors have cared enough to publish their work, I want to remember that seeing comes first. I want to remember that the "verilies" of Jesus are his command to me to pay attention.


Megan Sayer said...

Once upon a time a good friend said to me, about when God does stuff, "it's never about you...and it's always about you."
She's right. Over the past couple of years I've noticed that all the more: when God puts it on my heart to do something for someone else suddenly I find that He's actually dealing with me. Except because of that He's really doing it to benefit someone else, which in turn...
I can't hold that paradox inside me; it's too big for my tiny brain. All I know from it is that I need to be obedient to what God is saying, because it's never about me...

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Thank you for the introduction! My daughter is a photographer extrodinaire. Yesterday someone tried to impress me with some photos for sale and I had to say they didn't have meaning like my daughter's photos. Like John Cleese said, she puts things together that normally don't go together to create new meaning. Vivian Maier did the same and I found great meaning. I could look at her photos all day.
Therefore I would say noticing is just noticing until we do the connecting. Relationship is what God is all about and perhaps this is what Megan is talking about too.

Cherry Odelberg said...

"people send signals to say things they have no words for" -- isn't that the truth? I love pondering what makes people tick.
And I love this bit from your Leonard Sweet quote, "by 'tending and tilling,' naming and cherishing the tiniest part of what God has created."

Latayne C Scott said...

What a wonderful post. Loved the video. It gives me hope that some of my work will endure me, even if not published in my lifetime.

Katy, you're a wonder and a gift to us all.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, hard to know sometimes what it is about, isn't it? We are always presented with things too big for us. He knows. I don't have to.

Henrietta, did she put a baby in a pumpkin? (For those who don't follow me on Facebook, you must see this:

And me too: I think I have looked at her photos all day, at least once.

Cherry, Yes!

Latayne, I feel certain your work will endure. You continually amaze me.