"What do you notice?" asks my Spiritual Director several times throughout our monthly 50 minute visits. It is the case that my deepest spiritual deficiency is rooted in a lack of paying attention, or another way to put it, the hardest place for me to be is often the place I am. At the dinner table with my family I am emotionally still in that difficult prior meeting. At my writing desk when I am trying to focus on the coming week's message my thoughts drift to the running trail. On the running trail when I should be enjoying the silence I find myself recalling previous conversations or outlining a sermon series. I have resorted to listening to podcasts when I run - which as hooked as I am on Serial - I first started listening to it simply because I was unable to be fully present in my long runs. And then there was Sunday. I wrote what I felt was the best Advent sermon I have ever written. You can read a bit of the sermon in the previous blog entry. But when it came time to to preach it, I was emotionally still with my family in the Thanksgiving festivities and consequently delivered my worst ever sermon - from my best ever manuscript. The bottom line for me has been a failure to notice.
And so when my Spiritual Director says, "What do you notice?" what he means is, "What do you notice about where you are?" "Take the time, Matt to pay attention to what's happening around you and what's even more, take the time to pay attention to how you are responding to what's around you." And that has been the real discipline. I have mustered up the energy and wherewithal to notice what is around me, but giving attention to how I am responding to it all, wow - there's the discipline.
If only I were to have taken just a moment on Sunday morning to notice what was around me and to give a tiny bit of attention to how I was responding to those things. I would have spent more time looking directly at the family of the newly baptized one than at finding my place in a manuscript. I would have remembered that one paragraph that held the whole thing together. I would have...I would have...I would have...I would have left the first Sunday in Advent having felt the fulfillment of good worship. But instead I forgot to breathe and notice and pay attention and before I knew it, it was all over and I disappointed.
And John the Baptist stood in the wilderness proclaiming, "The one who is more powerful than I is is coming after me..."
If I don't get the notice and pay attention business down I might miss him.
So, stop and breathe. Look around you this Advent. Take note of what you see. Pay attention to how you feel. And may God open your heart to the Christ Child once again this year.