The first Monday after daylight savings time, having lost an hour, I decided to wake to an alarm and begin my day in the morning darkness – to pay attention and listen.
“To pay attention this is our endless and proper work.”
– Mary Oliver
It is just a small challenge, really; I am only getting up at 5:30 am. A need has sprouted in my soul for some sort of practice connecting me to my creative center. The Spirit tugs at my heart with whispers to write more, which means I must listen more. I scratch words onto a page in my journal attempting to know what my life is speaking to me, or rather what I need to hear from my thoughts and feelings I tucked away in the busy moments of living. I am learning to love commiserating with the morning darkness. Nothing great comes of it, yet something good opens inside of me when I make more time for solitude and listening.
Some solitude is uncomfortable, hard work; but more naturally suited to my personality. I feel quite at home in solitude. But still I must tend to it; I must make space for the necessary solitude. In the quiet I am able to listen, write and pray while something awakens in my spirit. I don’t always know what awakens, but experience a sense of my own blossoming in the silence. I am learning to listen in the chilly darkness while snuggled in a fluffy blanket. At first I write whatever comes to the surface and then I use writing prompts.
I like how Leeana Tankersley describes her own early morning ritual in her book Begin Again,
“My subconscious mind has not yet been interrupted. Nothing has intruded my senses. Out the windows is only stillness. I sit and drink black coffee and listen and write. Undistracted. I write on the top of my paper: God, what do you want to say to me this morning? And I just listen . . .”
By 8:30 am, the neighbor’s tiny dog, wound up and hyper-vigilant, consistently emits a high pitched bark directed at everyone passing by (or so it seems). The nearby middle school makes their morning announcements so loudly I’ve heard each syllable of The Pledge of Allegiance (grateful they still say it) and I know whose birthday is celebrated on any given day. It takes a lot more energy to infuse my time with quiet while neighborhood sounds bust through all barriers: doors, closed windows, walls and sometimes ear plugs (truly). And yet I embrace solitude whenever I can grab hold of it.
The beauty of growing older is the freedom to drink deep from the quiet when I so choose. So later in the morning, after having breakfast and coffee with my husband, before I take a stab at my to-do list or prepare for clients, I spend time reading and meditating on God’s Word and praying. This discipline opens a tender space in me, tuning my heart and soul toward the work of paying attention and being directed. There are times when I feel like a field left fallow; nicely plowed with nothing planted. But I have learned over the years this time is not wasted. The daily practice of showing up and paying attention scatters seeds I do not recognize, but not before the dark places in me have been laid open and exposed. Unaware in the ordinary dailiness of being and doing, life germinates.
“The cultivation of attentiveness to God’s presence should be the soil out of which all prayer arises.”
– Opening to God, David G. Benner
I have carried more guilt than I care to admit over the amount of time I have invested in “being” over “doing.” But surprisingly I still get a lot done – a lot of the things that truly matter to me. Last fall, my brother walked Jim and me through the process of developing a life plan, leaving us with one significant phrase summing up our purpose and focus. And we both knew without a doubt this one thing matters greatly to both of us. But we left with a stack of papers graffitied with our thought processes which were condensed into a one sentence directive. We had no idea how to sharpen our lives to that point. Out of the quiet places of my day ideas, thoughts and possibilities have been breaking ground. And just the other day, after I shared with Jim, things coming to life in me he said, “Maybe this is meant to be a part of our life plan.” In my spirit I sensed he was right.
“The ways God can communicate with us are infinitely more creative and diversifies than we could imagine.”
– Opening to God, David G. Benner
In the evening light as birds chatter loudly in the tangerine tree, the “what ifs” press in on my spirit planting doubts. Have I exposed too much hopefulness in these written words? Quickly I am reminded this hope is not in me, but in the One Who made me, the One Who “began a good work in [me].” Sigh. I relax. This is His doing, not mine. All I had to do was pay attention.