“Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
We are often distracted by those things which are immediately in front of us, the panic moments. For me over the holidays, it was eating too much, spending too much money, trying to find time to spend in focus and prayer when there seemed to be so many other pressing things, like spending time with family, or with my boyfriend. Little things like walking the dog seemed to be in the way of getting alone time; generally, it’s not until things get a little less distracting that I’m able to focus again on reading the Divine Office, and regularly practicing my centering prayer.
The garden doesn’t need as much attentive focus right now, but the seed catalogues have arrived. They’re piling up beside my couch, waiting for me to leaf through and start planning what will go where. But in the way of that is the imposing cold that’s moving through the house, changing everyone from a tenor to a baritone; the reality that the stress of work comes from an inability of employers to see anything beyond profit; and the magic cloud of red buttons on desks that launch nuclear weapons. Be it climate change, mortgage payments, or the regularity of the insanity of communities, there are ample opportunities for our attention to slip, to switch from what is important to what is easier to grasp as a means of not being still, not focusing on the still point.
A really good example of this was in a thread I followed on Facebook. A religious made a point about gender, and within 4-5 posts, a person began a tangent discussion about the nature of Jesus’ celibate life. (To be sure? I’m not certain that Bible speaks of this either way.) In this case, it was easier for this individual to being a spiritual discussion rather than deal with the issue at hand.
Jesus had a similar experience with a certain woman at a certain well. When he brought up the reason this woman was out in the heat of the day to get water, something that women of the time never did because it was too hot, she changed the subject. She tried to bring the attention to worship rather than her past/current behavior. Rather than react angrily, Jesus calmly redirects the conversation and brings her attention back to the important matter at hand.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen puts it another way, when he said that people can wake up in two ways. They can say “Good morning, God!” Or, alternatively, they can say “Good God, Morning!”
Once I make the choice where to put my attention, everything from my mood to my choices to my attitudes follows. When I make the choice to take time to focus, to be still, to center and find that rock in myself that grounds me to God, my day tends to unfold with a lot more calm and tranquility. I’m able to face challenges with less hostility and frustration because those changes are less threatening. But if and when I choose to restrict or eliminate my quiet times (and that does happen!), it’s far easier to slip into the dark reactionary ways of living like a deer caught in a head lights “GOOD GOD! MORNING!”
There is a line in the Compline prayer that says:
“Fratres: Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte: quia adversárius vester diábolus, tamquam leo rúgiens círcuit, quaerens quem dévoret: cui resístite fortes in fide. Brethren, stay sober and alert, your adversary the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour, resist him being strong in your faith. Every time we allow our attentiveness to slip from the calm within us, we provide an opportunity for negativity, frustration, anxiety, anger, depression, sadness, fear to enter into our lives like a roaring lion that will tear us from the walk we walk, push us into dark and dismal territory.
This year, the importance of the attentiveness of prayer and contemplation is central to me. Taking moments in the day for reading my office, for using the mundane tasks as opportunities for contemplative focus and praise, planning the garden as an integral part of my serenity and the hermitage’s focal point, focusing on direction in how I can work within myself, my community; attentiveness is as easy as closing my eyes, watching my breath flow in, flow out, watching the still points between, coming to the important truth innately within myself: Be Still and Know that I am God.