Just One Moment of Close Attention
Can Be a Prayer to God
“Does God communicate through the natural world? Through the slug on the compost pile, the leaf on the lawn, the stone tumbled on the beach, the air that feeds my lungs, the dreams that fill my nights? How will I know unless I pay attention?”
–from the Introduction
Paying attention is rarely easy to do. It requires focus, patience and a willingness to slow down—traits that are hard to come by in this hurry-up world. But close attention to even one small piece of creation, one object, person, routine, image, word or scripture, can become a prayer to God, opening a channel of communication between you and the Divine to allow for deep spiritual growth.
In this inspiring guide, you will discover ways to develop a practice of attention as a means of talking—and listening—to God. Framed on the Christian liturgical year and paired with images of the seasons of the earth, each chapter includes an insightful and poignant narrative which illustrates the surprising richness to be found in every attention-getting moment. Following each narrative is a prayer, suggested scripture readings and a specific exercise you can use to develop your own practice of attention as a means to better connect with God.
Accessible, humorous and meaningful, these words and practices will lead you further along your path toward discovering a deeper awareness of yourself and your relationship to all that is around you—and within you.
“Beautiful, passionate and very personal … reminds us again of why we need to be aware of the present moment: that’s where God is.”
—John Lionberger, author, Renewal in the Wilderness: A Spiritual Guide to Connecting with God in the Natural World
… Offers wise counsel to develop in practical ways a deep and intimate relationship with the immediacy of life. An invaluable resource for those interested in realizing the spiritual in daily life.”
Titmuss, co-founder, Gaia House; author, An Awakened Life: Uncommon Wisdom from Everyday Life
“Leaps alive with insightful stories, honest reflection and practical suggestions of finding the Divine in the daily-ness of our lives.… A must for anyone seeking or struggling to create a spiritual practice.”
—Nancy Corcoran, CSJ, author, Secrets of Prayer: A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life
“Attention is the great problem of our distractable age. Here’s a solution!”
—Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature
“Uncovers the presence of God in scripture, nature, everyday events, and the glad tidings of creativity. These observations and practices are sturdy companions.”
—Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, co-directors, spiritualityandpractice.com; coauthors, Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life and Spiritual Rx.: Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life
“Puts St. Paul’s teaching of ‘pray without ceasing’ into the context of our everyday lives. A poetic and practical, eloquent and accessible book.”
—Alice Peck, editor, Next to Godliness: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping
“[Provides] a connection to peace, to faith, and to natural compassion—a ‘homey’ comfort.”
—Sylvia Boorstein, author, Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake: The Buddhist Path of Kindness
“A pilgrim’s field guide to the Sacred.… Reminds us that by waiting and watching we will encounter the Sacred in the everyday stuff of life.”
—Philip Harnden, author, Journeys of Simplicity: Traveling Light with Thomas Merton, Bashō, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard & Others
“Reading this book was like sitting with a friend and talking about what really matters, which I never have time for. It helped me slow down and appreciate the little things.”
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MARGARET D. MCGEE BIO
Margaret D. McGee is an innovative teacher, guest speaker and leader of workshops on the topics of spiritual writing and prayer. She is author of the spiritual memoir Stumbling Toward God: A Prodigal’s Return, a frequent choice for book and study groups. For more information about Margaret’s writing and her adventures, visit www.inthecourtyard.com.
Q&A WITH MARGARET D. MCGEE
Why did you link the twelve chapters of the book to the Christian liturgical calendar?
The seasons of the liturgical calendar—Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and the long season of Ordinary Time—revolve around scriptural stories and themes that are echoed in the stories and themes of all human life. Some of the earliest stories that appear in this book were written to relate to particular liturgical seasons. It was only later that I noticed they shared the common theme of paying attention. As more anecdotes about paying attention grew and came together into the book, again and again I was struck by how a new story “fit” into one church season or another. A dream during pregnancy fit with Advent’s theme of waiting. A “fall to earth” fit with Lent’s journey toward true humility. It felt right to use the church calendar as a way to order the chapters, and once I decided to do that, the book’s overall structure came together easily.
Why is paying attention so hard to do?
Paying attention leads us face to face with reality, and that can be painful. Also, we are living in a world where information is being thrown at us at high speed from all directions. To pay attention to anything at all, we have to choose, and then make a real effort to focus on that choice. My husband, David, and I like to watch sports on television, but we find it hard to follow the game with all the flashing promos and scrolling text that now commonly appear in sports programming. Finally, David created a strip of black cloth that we can temporarily attach to the bottom of our screen, blocking out the scrolling text that tells about other games—the games we aren’t watching. That way, we can have the experience of being in the moment with whatever game we are watching.
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- The personal stories in the book illustrate moments of close attention that reveal sacredness in the world. What aspects of your life get most of your attention? What would a deeper relationship with the Divine be like for you, moment to moment?
- In the Introduction, the author says that prayer involves both talking and listening to God. In your experience, how does the conversation start?
- The story in the Advent chapter suggests that how we wait for change will affect what we’re waiting for. How do you prepare for change? What are you waiting for today?
- Describe a place where you’ve felt safe and free. Take time with the memories—give them your full attention. How did that place and its freedom affect the rest of your life? What do you do now that connects you to freedom-giving events from the past?
- In chapter 3, the author tells about deciding not to interfere in a situation that at first seemed to need her help, until she looked more closely and saw that the people involved probably had a better solution of their own. When you have a problem, what do you want from others? How does love respond to trouble?
- How are duty, responsibility, and joy related (or unrelated) in your life? When and how does the spirit of God speak to you?
- The author tells the story of her talented nephew and his struggle to come to terms with his unusual athletic ability. Where do your talents lie? (If that question is hard to answer, ask other group members to say where they think your talents lie.) What is possible for you today?
- While splitting wood, the author finds herself in a “cloud of witnesses” as she muses on all the people from her life who are with her in spirit while she works. Where do you find wholeness, a sense of connection, between the parts of life?
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