Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Paying Attention, Becoming Aware


The first decade of the second millennium has slipped by.  I ask myself if I’m any closer to knowing my true self; understanding and appreciating others; plumbing the depths of God’s mercy; savoring the beauty of the world about us; accepting the mysteries of pain and suffering and loss.

The Dominican tradition emphasizes the role of contemplative prayer in nudging us along the path of deeper awareness of the meaning of our personal existence and of the complex web that unites us with God and with all that is.

How do we go about it?  We take time to sit still in God’s presence.  We turn our gaze within; we listen, wait, relax, turn off the mental engines, and allow ourselves to fall into God’s embrace.  We remind ourselves that all is sacred. 

Poets and mystics are good at showing us what it means to pay attention.  Emily Dickenson writes, “Luscious lies the pea within the pod.”  You have to be attentive, you have to slow down to admire peas in a pod – so clean and orderly and snug within their long slender envelope.  Or consider the poem by Mary Oliver.  Her favorite flower is the blue iris but she tells us:
It doesn’t have to be
 The blue iris it could be
 Weeds in a vacant lot, or few
Small stones: just
Pay attention, then patch
A few words together and don’t try
To make them elaborate, this isn’t
A contest but a doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
Another voice may speak.”

Oliver offers us here a kind of definition of contemplation:  it’s a doorway into thanks and into silence.  The other voice in that space may be that of our better selves, or of a friend, or a mentor, or of God.

Gradually, if we’re faithful to the practice we become free of prejudice; free of illusions; free of grudges; free of small- mindedness.  The Dominican saints exuded this kind of freedom.  A freedom rooted in truth.

Question for reflection:  What kind of prayer helps you become more mindful, more aware, more grateful, more attentive to your true self, to others, and to God?

Kaye Ashe, OP
Westchester, Illinois

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