Pay Attention to the Lilies

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention… pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.

Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.

Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both.
~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark

I have broken the commandment to “consider the lilies” way too many times. In my daily life I am considering almost anything else: my own worries and concerns as I walk past so much beauty and meaning and holiness. My mind dwells within, blind and deaf to what is outside.

It is necessary to be reminded every day that I need to pay attention beyond myself, to be reminded to love my neighbor, to remember what history has to teach us, to search for the sacred in all things.

Stop, Look, Listen, Consider:
all is grace,
all is gift,
all is holiness brought to life – stunning, amazing, wondrous.

4 thoughts on “Pay Attention to the Lilies

  1. A powerful reminder, a suggestion that could make a vast change in our life, in our attitudes and our expectations – not that easy to do in today’s frenetic world so blindly hell bent on self-destruction. That is why I turn to the Prophets and the Psalms nearly every day (especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). Astonishing, almost eerie at times. It seems as if one is reading the daily newspapers and news reports from all over our shrinking world. Dates, names, places, people change. But not really. We just continue to make the same mistakes over and over until we come to the edge of that vast chasm of despair. We read in Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) 1:9 that ‘What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.’

    We think we see but do not see. Our human ego, false pride and sinful arrogance tell us that we have ‘the answers.’ We do not. Nor do we think that we need help or even a brief respite from our daily cares and worries from anyone – including our Creator-God, Jesus, the Christ of the Universe. We are lost in a quagmire, a downward spiral of destruction of our home – the environment with all its beauty and gifts for our use and for those who will come after us, violence, hatred, selfishness and greed.

    ‘Stop, Look, Listen, Consider,’ as you, Emily, wisely offer. Be surprised, then, when we feel a sudden rush of sweet, unearned joy and peace. Pure gift. Food for our tired body and mind, encouragement for our often overburdened soul.


  2. Yes, I know.
    I need to.
    I need to focus on nature.
    All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen. RWE
    A favorite quote…but I’m not tuned into it at the present moment.
    I must. I must. Get back to that hope.


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