The Spiritual Discipline of Noticing
Updated: Jun 15
Have you noticed anything lately that has touched and inspired you? Or have you been surprised at what you missed noticing?
Recently, I visited the Honolulu Museum of Art that was displaying a beautiful and unusual exhibit by British artist Rebecca Louise Law. Her exhibit “The Awakening” combines her own recycled plant materials with Hawaiian flowers and other plants that were dried and strung together with help from the local community (https://honolulumuseum.org/events/1654139315/).
After visiting the art museum, I watched a video that Ms. Law made about the story behind “The Awakening” and was surprised to learn that there were several strands of plastic in this exhibit. The artist mentions in the video that visitors might walk through the entire exhibit without noticing the strands of plastic trash. I was one of those visitors who missed noticing the plastic amongst the dried flowers, leaves, and other vegetation. It makes me wonder about what else I might miss noticing.
We can miss noticing God’s presence as well in our everyday activities. C.S. Lewis pens the following in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:
We may ignore but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is
crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not
always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to
become awake. Still more, to remain awake. (1)
In his book on Noticing God, Richard Peace maintains that we need to learn to notice, and with respect to God, to engage in the spiritual discipline of noticing God. (2) Several other spiritual disciplines help us notice God, such as the practices of silence and solitude, reading Scripture, and prayer. Matt Scott, Minister to Spiritual Formation in Leadership Transformations, recommends improving our noticing of God by slowing down, using our five senses, emphasizing listening over speaking, and exercising curiosity by asking questions. (3)
Another way to approach the practice of noticing is through exercising attentiveness. David Vryhof suggests that we learn how to pray without ceasing “by watching and listening for signs of God’s presence and activity, even in the very ordinary circumstances of life,” such as conversations with friends, reading Scripture, and in witnessing the wonder of human relationships. (4) He goes on to say that “living with attentiveness is like pulling up the shades.” (5) Mary Oliver, an American Poet, sums up the power of attention as “the beginning of devotion.” (6)
On the heels of my missing the strands of plastic while viewing the exhibit “The Awakening,” I resolved that I would be more intentional on paying attention on what was going on around me. A day or so later after visiting the art museum while on my morning walk, I happened to be waiting for a traffic light to change with another walker – a somber-looking young woman who was walking her dog. After we crossed the street, she hurried ahead of me and approached a young man in a wheelchair along with his attendant.
I had seen this young man before who seemed to be friends with everyone in the neighborhood who was walking their dogs. After the young woman greeted him, he bent down in his wheelchair and planted a tender kiss on the little dog’s head – the dog wriggling with joy to see and be touched by his kind neighbor.
As I passed the group, I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes tearing up. Here was a fellow confined to a wheelchair who probably could not manage having his own dog. Yet, he shared his love of dogs and their people in the neighborhood.
About a half hour later, the young woman passed by my table in the neighborhood coffee shop. Her countenance had changed from being somber to one of emanating joy and peace. I was struck with how time spent with the young man had apparently lifted her spirits. I breathed a prayer that God would help me share my love with others and lift their spirits like the young man. I also expressed my gratitude to God for being able to witness this exchange of love and neighborliness at the start of my day.
What about you? Are you “lifting up the shades” and paying attention to what is going on around you today? Who knows what delightful or thought-provoking situations you might witness that might draw you closer to the love of God and love for others.
1. C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), 58.
2. Richard Peace, Noticing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), Introduction: How Do We Notice the Presence of God? Kindle version.
3. Matt Scott, “Pathways: A Weekly Resource for the Care of Your Soul,” Leadership Transformations, email April 20, 2023.
4. David Vryhof, “Attentiveness,” in Silencio: Reflective Practices for Nurturing Your Soul, ed. Stephen A. Macchia (Lexington, MA: Leadership Transformations, Inc., 2019), 101-102.
5. David Vryhoff, “Attentiveness,” Silencio, 102.
6. Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays (New York: Penguin Press, 2019), 8.