Doing is Being Present


It is natural for me to focus on the day or even the upcoming week, on events that I have been anticipating, on things I have to do.  However, I sometimes catch myself, knowing that this isn’t necessarily what I need to pay attention to and also knowing that will I will go back to anticipating.

Even in the midst of this everyday stuff though, Buechner says that Jesus comes.  Like when I hear a passing comment that causes me to lean in, to listen differently or notice the honeysuckle growing wildly and wonderfully outside my bedroom window.  It is as if there is a message for me hidden in the words or scene and I ever so fleetingly pay attention.

Buechner calls these moments

the clack-clack of my life… The occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace.  The muffled presence of the holy.  The images, always broken, partial, ambiguous, of Christ.

That clack-clack, the everyday things, harbor glimmers of light that turn me toward noticing something. Today that noticing was the smell of the honeysuckle and sweet jasmine that was overwhelming as I walked the dog this morning.  In a starkly different scene, I noticed that my colleague’s response to my own pushing to get something done caused me to realize that I was trying too hard to get something done.  This kind of noticing, the smells of late spring or gentle reminders to offer grace, calls for an unusual response, an act of deeper listening.

Walter Bruggeman says that to listen is to resist autonomy, an intriguing option for me.  In his book, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, from the chapter, “A Case Study in Fidelity” he says,

In our own time, these chapters (of Jeremiah) speak eloquently against the ideology of autonomy so powerful in modernity, against our notions of holding initiative for our life, and our mistaken notion of being self-starters.

The deeper kind of listening that I am being called into, how does that fit with my restlessness to get something done?  I’ve been reminded lately that my version of “getting things done” is for my own gratification.

In a meeting earlier this week, I was acutely aware – after the encounter was over—that I talked too much about what I do or think or understand instead of listening for how what I do or think or understand even matters. I’m pretty sure I was thinking of my own response, conscious of how I was being perceived, instead of listening deeply to my colleagues.

Maybe there is something better than doing.  And that something better, Parker Palmer says is “our gift of self in the form of personal presence attention, the kind that invites the other’s soul to show up.”

I realize that I am able to choose to notice all the subtle opportunities I have to pay attention, to listen more deeply, veiled in the fleeting words or actions or circumstances of another, whether the “another” is a person or the awe-inspiring honeysuckle outside my window.  And amazingly, no, by grace, things get done that are visible and invisible, without striving.

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