The spiritual life is about noticing and seeing. What we pause long enough to really focus on, shapes our being. What we truly see is what we become. The Prodigal Son saw, and it changed him. His spiritual eyes; the eyes of his understanding, were opened. This deeper kind of knowing spun him around on his heels, and he returned to his father with a humble and turned heart. He was forever changed.
We can learn to develop spiritual attentiveness through the practices of seeing and noticing. A Spiritual Director can help teach us practices that cause our hearts and minds to be more attuned to God’s loving presence.
“Noticing” is the ability to accept all aspects of reality without judgment. You might notice that it’s raining outside, but without thinking of it as either good or bad. You may need to grab an umbrella, but that doesn’t send you into an emotional tantrum, just because you might get wet. You’re simply noticing the weather and adjusting to it appropriately. No judgment.
As we learn to notice, we begin to develop the ability to show “compassion” and “unconditional love”, no strings attached. We can also develop the ability to notice by engaging our senses through a kind of sensory inventory. We ask ourselves, again, without judgment:
How do I feel today? What do I smell, taste, see, hear…? Where in my body do I experience a certain feeling or sensation? What energizes or drains me? How have I experienced love today? Or a lack of love?
And we simply hold loosely these thoughts and feelings. For most of us, however, this way of being takes practice and a guide to lead us to that preferred future.
“Seeing”, spiritually speaking, involves sensing God everywhere, in all things. I have always loved the poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning which begins
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God…”.
Eventually, the ordinary is seen as holy. The whole world is charged with the holiness of God. This leads to a heightened ability to experience “wonder” and true gratitude. We can cultivate our ability to see through practices like silence and stillness; deliberately pausing, particularly out in nature, to make space for God’s presence. We even learn to look for God and see him in the distressing and painful (or dark) times in our lives.
In our final article in this series on Spiritual Direction, we’ll share more about how in engaging in both noticing and seeing we begin to experience the three dimensions of God’s presence. (If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.)