In the dusk after Daylight Saving Time ended, I carpooled four middle school boys to a barn party. My maps app called out step-by-step directions through the speaker and I kept my eyes focused on street signs as we wove our way into the country.
As soon as we drove out from the grid of businesses and subdivisions, one of the boys gasped about the wispy stripes of orange, yellow, and deep red across the sky. Every corner we turned, the farm fields and patches of forest framed the glowing colors in a different way. The boys took notice.
“Look at that.”
In the poem, Sometimes, Mary Oliver wrote: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Going about our business, many of us have suppressed the childlike ability to be astonished. Our GPS leads the way. The calendar tells us where to be and when to be there. Yet God is daily pursuing our attention, placing common glories in our periphery and waiting for us to respond.
Going about our business, many of us have suppressed the childlike ability to be astonished.
At the beginning of Exodus, Moses is leading his sheep on the far side of a desert mountain when a strange sight catches his eye. He stops in his tracks when he sees flames in the thicket, a bush that is burning yet isn’t consumed. He sees it at first without trying. Then, he steps forward to see it again with intention.
At this moment of active curiosity, something special happens. As soon as Moses peers closely, God calls Moses by name. God has quietly initiated with a small display of glory, but it is only when Moses chooses to come near that God actually speaks. God doesn’t speak to get Moses’ attention. God speaks when Moses is paying attention.
But it is not only rarities and miracles that help us to hear from God. Robert Farrar Capone says in his quirky book, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, when we appreciate something as common as the yellow onion for its unique color, aroma, texture, and shape, its layers like “flame inthrusting flame,” we can see a burning bush even on our kitchen counter.
When we come close to common things in creation, we can feel the wonder of God.
So often, we use the raw materials of the world merely as tools for ourselves. We chop the onion as fast as we can to throw into the stew. We may be thankful for the things we have, but only to the extent that they satisfy our appetites.
When we appreciate things only for their usefulness, we miss out. We dull our senses to the creativity of God and make our interaction with the world one-sided. But when we move past consumerism and experience the resources around us with the vision of a poet, artist, or connoisseur, suddenly our flat, obligated gratitude takes on vivid definition.
When we move past consumerism and experience the resources around us with the vision of a poet, artist or connoisseur, suddenly our flat, obligated gratitude takes on vivid definition.
After eleven pages showing and telling the glories of the onion, Robert Farrar Capone says, “Hopefully, you will never again argue that the solidities of the world are mere matters of accident…. Perhaps now you have seen at least dimly that the uniquenesses of creation are the result of continuous creative support…. His present delight–His intimate and immediate joy in all you have seen, and in the thousand other wonders you do not even suspect.”
The boys’ crackly, deepening middle school voices tugged me out of autopilot and gave me new vision. Their wonder sparked my own and I joined them in marveling over the changing colors in the sky.
“I wish I had a camera,” one of them said.
Turning my attention from the voice on the map app, I grabbed my phone and handed it to the back. The boys took a few pictures, more eager than accurate. Later, as I sent the beautiful but blurry images to mothers and sons, I imagined what our Thanksgiving tables would be like if we all relaxed our focus on efficiency and logistics and overflowed in awe at the everyday blessings we’ve learned to truly see.
If we let them, attention and astonishment will simmer like fresh herbs in the stockpot, giving a full-bodied flavor to the tradition of counting our blessings. With an ongoing personal knowledge of the goodness of God, our gratitude can feel less like an obligation and more like spontaneous worship, a response that stirs up the awareness of people around us.
Whether we study the unique characteristics of an onion or glory in a stunning sunset, we have the chance to follow the thread back to the source and hear the very voice of God. We have the chance to receive both the gift and its Giver.
It is up to us to pause and pay attention, take on a posture of wonder, and speak up in awe.
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