Attention is the gateway to love and awe. There is no wonder without it, whether it’s attending that stops us in our tracks or the kind we carefully make time for and nurture. It’s the gift we give back to the amazement of living, to our loved ones, to the needs and beauties of the world around us. To the steadying soil at our feet, the roughness of rocks, the crispness of leaves, the delicacy of petals, the texture of bark, the silkiness of skin, the expression deep in another’s eyes.
Paying attention is also a gift we give ourselves. There is so much calling out to us — a barrage of news, mostly dire, the needs of our loved ones, the constant calls to tasks, to the next thing on the agenda. Releasing memory and care, however briefly, to sink into the moment — awake, aware, moved, interested, curious — brings vivid aliveness to days that can slip by in a blur of activity and reaction.
Churches all over the world set aside September 1 to October 4, St. Francis of Assissi’s birthdate, to contemplate the wonders of the earth and what we need to do to foster them. This is my fifth celebration of the Season of Creation, which was launched as a single day in 1989 by Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. Over the years more and more denominations have joined from every part of the globe. Pope Francis put it on the Catholic calendar in 2015 with the publication of his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.
I started my celebrations in 2016 with quotes from this visionary document. Since then I’ve quoted wisdom from other faith leaders, scientists, and activists. Pairing them all with photos of the wonders I’ve seen. This year I chose the distilled vision of poetry, starting with Mary Oliver, the high priestess of the act of attending.
Attention, she told us, is the beginning of devotion. Among the many synonyms for devotion are enthusiasm, fervor, intensity, love, passion, reverence, zeal, ardor, observance, sanctity, and spirituality. All things we invite into our lives the moment we attend. And then bring with us to the tasks we return to, connected, heart-filled, literally en-couraged, ready to create the future we long for.
Earth, isn’t this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there’s nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose?
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Ninth Duino Elegy ~
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
~ David Wagoner, Lost ~
Lean into me
Sings in quiet meditation…
It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.
~ Simon Ortiz, Culture and the Universe ~
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
~ John O’Donohue, For One Who Is Exhausted ~
And I will not make a poem nor the least part of a poem but has
reference to the soul,
Because having look’d at the objects of the universe, I find there
is no one nor any particle of one but has reference to the soul.
~ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass ~
Whenever we lose track of our own obsessions,
our self-concerns, because we drift for a minute,
an hour even, of pure (almost pure)
response to that insouciant life:
cloud, bird, fox, the flow of light, the dancing
pilgrimage of water…
animal voices, mineral hum, wind
conversing with rain, ocean with rock…
then something tethered
in us, hobbled like a donkey on its patch
of gnawed grass and thistles, breaks free.
~ Denise Levertov, Sojourns in the Parallel World ~
learn the flowers
~ Gary Snyder, For the Children ~
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves,
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
~ Pablo Neruda, Keeping Quiet ~
Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal…
The hooked head stares
from its blouse of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.
~ Mary Oliver, Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard ~
…put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
~ Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front ~
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth,
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
~ Joy Harjo, Remember ~
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