One of my friends has started posting his intriguing photos of repeated archways and spiraling staircases at the university where he works. They are always close and unusual angles. They make me question how far over he was leaning when he took the photos and how many times we walk by the quotidian, oblivious, not because of lack of vision, but simply from lack of practice.
With the beauty of autumn has come micro shots of varying fungi and bug’s eye views of petals and changing leaves all across my social media pages. I have loved every one.
While grand, panoramic scenes are beautiful in photographs, there is something to be gleaned from all these close up views and tiny noticings. They provide the visual illustration our imaginations may require to shift from what large lessons God may have for us in our life to accepting the small, simple joy and goodness in our day.
This leaf may not change the trajectory of my life, but it may be sufficient for me to refocus and begin to see the tiny ways God wants to heal me, to speak to me, and through me.
In other words, in a world where we might be quick to blame social media for the FOMO or for breeding attitudes of one-upmanship, I have been gifted the reminder through your fall leaf photos and family pumpkin patch visits and fungi foraging, that God is always here, present with us, and his beauty, although terrific, is also tiny and mundane, and oh so near us.
As my guys were growing up, most of our home school weeks involved at least weekly outings to nature trails. Some of these would be planned events with specific agendas: dissecting owl pellets at an ornithology center, bird watching, tree identification, nature doodling,etc. Mostly, however, they were devoid of any real purpose other than being outside together. These visits and hikes have trained our minds to listen for our surroundings, to look for the unexpected. These nature trail walks have provided the backdrops to impromptu conversations, to empty space as margin for our thoughts and relationships. I pray they have been part of our spiritual training to notice and see things we may not have otherwise.
Theologian and Milligan University professor Philip Kenneson explains in his book Practicing Ecclesial Patience: Patient Practice Makes Perfect that he encourages all his students to take Vertebrate Field Biology.
What is it we are called to notice? Of course nature and the changing seasons around us, but also our feelings, both positive and negative, both uplifting and anxiety-inducing. We ask God to train us to notice the feelings in others, to notice our own desires and how God may want to use those desires in his mission for the world. We may notice obstacles and wonder why they bother us so much. We may notice opportunities opening for us and startle that they both excite us and unnerve us. We may learn to pay attention to scripture more closely and ask better questions of the text.
Bird watching and fungi photos may help facilitate these spiritual disciplines.
So, how do I begin to allow God to train me to see more clearly, to pay attention to the movings and breathings of the Spirit within me? It takes practice and reflection and it may take a community of believers, whether an organized group, or one or two faithful friends, to help us lean in to the gentle promptings of how God longs for us to see the world.
While reading a Gospel passage, we might ask –
*Where is God in this story?
*What does this passage tell me about God?
*Is Jesus responding the way I would respond in this situation? How is he different?
*What seems to be motivating Jesus in this passage?
*How might this passage be inviting me to transform?
What is inviting you to notice more this season?
What everyday sights are prompting you closer to Jesus?