Instructions For Living A Life

I was reading through one of my collections of poems by Mary Oliver when I came across this line: 

Instructions for living a life: 
Pay attention.
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.  

I loved this, and it got me thinking about how these three instructions played out in my own life, so naturally, I decided to reflect on it a bit here.  

Paying attention is a practice that is both incredibly necessary and also incredibly hard to do in our current context.  There are so many distractions vying for our attention right now---troubling news, worries about the future, social media click-holes, and our own challenges among them.  

With all of this in mind, it's not surprising how hard it is to pay attention to what God might be showing us, or teaching us in the world around us.  

It's also hard to pay attention to the signs and symbols of new life, new growth, and new ways of moving and being the world that are springing up as well.  

We need to slow down, maybe even stop and sit still long enough to be aware of God's presence.  

After all, Elijah didn't recognize God's presence in earthquakes and whirlwinds when he waited for God on the mountain.  He recognized God in the stillness and quietness of the Voice of God within him. 

We also need to be open enough to be astonished by what we experience of God, and by all of the ways that God can and will surprise us.  Let me give an example... 

The other day I had a surprising moment when I was at a concert the other day, lost in the music and staring up at the moon shining bright overhead.  The lyrics I was singing to the sky became a prayer for me---a prayer that I was shocked to hear myself pray.  

And then I  found myself surprised at feeling God's presence all around me, in spite of the fact that what I was praying was accusatory, full of lament, and even a bit angry.  I found myself astonished by the feeling of comfort that washed over me. 

As I stood there, I realized just how much I'd missed that feeling of connection to God, and how much I needed to renew my sense of wonder that God was always near. 

Finally, when we have paid attention and felt astonished... we need to tell about it. We need to share our stories with one another---not just the ones where everything is falling apart, but the ones where it all gets put back together. 

We need these stories right now.  The world is full of unprecedented challenges, and it's going to take all of us to overcome them.  

If you have a story to tell... tell it.  And if you are worried about saying the right things, don't.  Share your story imperfectly if you have to---no one will care.  The world is messy enough anyway, we're used to it. 

Besides, if you wait until you have it exactly right---you may never find the courage to say what you need to say.  Don't be shy.  Your story might be the very thing that gives someone else the courage to start paying attention and open their heart to wonder. 

May it be so for you today and every day from this day.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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