Circle of Awareness
Some years ago, my friend Nancy owned a beautiful home whose interior was decorated in the most amazing way. As far as I know, no professional designer did this work. Instead, it was Nancy herself, a lover and collector of art who had fashioned a feast for the eyes. No matter where I stood in her house, wherever I looked, something beautiful or intriguing filled my gaze. Sometimes it was a painting, but it could be a set of vases or a small figurine or sculpture, or perhaps a platter she had hand-carried from Italy. And there were family photos too, but expertly framed and perfectly placed to capture the eye and experience her family of love. With everything that she placed around the rooms, she invited guests to notice—to be aware of the surroundings, to see beauty.
This morning, I was reminded of Nancy’s home because of two teachings I had recently heard: one by James Finley about our human tendency to skim over life and merely see or feel the outer layers of what is presented. And yesterday, a devotion by Barbara Brown Taylor who taught that, “paying attention helps us stop turning everything into scenery.” In other words, another way of “skimming.” Both Taylor and Finley are asking us to see the sacredness in the everyday. To really look.
Their ideas coalesced and I understood that Nature (or God, in my Christ-centric worldview) has been “doing” a Nancy thing all along. All I had to do was take the time to look around the circle of my world, my home, my garden, my work.
It may be true that I “planted” seedlings and plants in my garden, but their blooms and their shapes and their colors are a gift through every season. How could I know what this rose could do to my heart? The crape myrtle fills my study window, particularly as it leafs out in spring, and the birds are constantly dancing in and out among the branches. In a few weeks, the bright pink blooms will explode all over this tree, a glorious eruption. And now, with all the rain we’ve been having, the shades of green I see out my window rival any artist’s palette. Across the alley, there are fewer lovely things (more are man-made) like metal fences and delivery trucks, but still, there are trees too and birds and foxes that intercept the banal.
When I walk in a crowded place or drive in traffic, can I still see this circle around me? Can I appreciate the gifts that are waiting for me to notice? Can I stay awake? Can I count humans as part of a beautiful creation? Or will I delegate the cacophony and the masses into a mere backdrop?
I know what it means to skim. As a librarian and avid reader, I have relegated many books to a cursory examination. They didn’t capture my attention. But it’s a terrible trap to make skimming a habit, whether in books or in life. It’s past time to do better.