Paying attention is a spiritual practice.
Spiritual practices deepen our attentiveness to moments of wonder, encounters with truth, invitations into awe. Spiritual practices draw our attention to thin spaces where holiness and ordinariness mingle, inseparable, entangled. In the daily moments and real encounters of our ordinary lives, the Divine draws near and comes to dwell. Right in the midst and mess of it all. Deep calls to deep, and Word becomes flesh and flesh invites Spirit and Spirit spits truth and truth reveals the tender ache of enfleshed life. Incarnation. God incarnate. Love incarnate. Divinity enfleshed. Are you paying attention?
Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote that prayer begins at the edge of emptiness. At the edge of emptiness, a felt need, a yearning, a hope, a possibility, a longing. For something more, something different, something deeper, something real, something transformative. The healing salve of salvation. Common nourishment. We are in urgent need of collective conversion, a turning toward more convivial, caring tenderness. Tender love. Fierce love.
So, dear one: Take a breath. A deep breath. And, another. Remember the word for Spirit is breath. Ruach. Pneuma. In the rhythms of our breath, we remember and return and reconnect to Divine rhythms of rest, revival, resistance. Taking in. Holding. Letting go. Sighs too deep for words. With each breath, we invite and participate in Spirit. Love, in the flesh.
“To love,” writes theologian Catherine Keller, “is to bear with the chaos.” If we are paying attention at all, we are no strangers to chaos. Urgent planetary precarity, and crises of climate change. Threats of nuclear war. Terrorisms of radicalized white supremacy and misogyny. Rising religious extremisms. The ruins of late global corporate capitalism. Legacies of colonialism and enslavement that haunt our different histories and demand reparation—repair—in our shared present. Addictions to greed, to violence, to numbness, to distraction, to indifference. Paying attention requires courage. Remember, courage comes from coeur, heart. If it is hard work, it is heart work. Spiritual practices help us continue in the hard work of heart work in a world hell bent on hardening tender hearts. In Milk and Honey, poet Rupi Kaur reminds: “to be soft is to be powerful.” Soft power is gospel power.
In the chaos of our current common life, there are no easy answers but there are simple truths that can guide us: seek justice; practice kindness; journey together, open and attentive to each other and the Divine. Togetherness. Tenderness. Justice-love. The Divine, drawing near and coming to dwell, in the chaos. The Divine, intimately entangled with all aspects of our interconnected life. The pain and the possibility, the beauty and the brokenness, the glory and the grief. In our shared vulnerability, in turning our soft flesh toward one another, in meeting the soft flesh of an/other with tender care, we find God, we encounter Divinity, we build Beloved Community, we enflesh ecclesia.
Justice is what love looks like in public, insists theologian and activist Cornel West. Physicist and feminist philosopher of science Karen Barad writes, “Justice, which entails acknowledgment, recognition, and loving attention, is not a state that can be achieved once and for all. There are no solutions; there is only the ongoing practice of being open and alive to each meeting, each intra-action, so that we might use our ability to respond, our responsibility, to help awaken, to breathe life into ever new possibilities of living justly. The world and its possibilities for becoming are remade in each meeting.”
So breathe deep, beloved. Pay attention. Stay open. Turn in. Reach out. Together, we breathe and bleed and bless and birth the world alive, in enfleshed love. May it be so.