I will make time for solitude and will practice paying attention. Walking will slow me down and I will take time to notice what is there with me. I will explore the forests and other contexts of creation. As with reading, walking often gives me new energy. I have learned there is a great deal of similarity to exploring a neighborhood, a forest, or the printed page. A healthy spirituality for a preacher does include an exegesis of the text, but it is also helpful to exegete our surroundings. One becomes practice for the other. God is active in the text and in the neighborhood. I desire to be faithful to both as contexts for me to be with God.
I hope to continue developing the skill of attentiveness. May I be attentive to birdsong and plant life. May I discover the holy in the particular. Thomas Merton saw a collie with a feathery tail and the blank side of a frame house and found beauty. He listened as all day long the frogs sing and stated it might be the one of the best days he has ever known. The sun, dead grass, snowflakes, fire, soup, toast, hills, pines, and books prompt for him holy thoughts. I desire to become more attentive and to recognize the presence of the holy.
Wendell Berry practices attentiveness. He has a knack of starting with what is obvious. He might be talking about trees or birds or a farmer’s field. Suddenly these things become windows to other things like love, amazement, and blessing. Perhaps I should schedule a retreat. Or schedule a regular practice of retreat. Perhaps I should spend more time in the forest, perhaps an overnight or a series of hikes. How can I distinguish what I do for pleasure and what I do to feed my soul?
In our tradition it is common to raise our hands as a hallelujah. It is not unusual to say it out loud. Can a hike serve as a hallelujah? Can one step become Hallelujah and the next Amen? Can a journey through the forest be a celebration of praise? Annie Dillard seems to think so. “I go my way, and my left foot says Glory and my right foot says Amen; in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”
Can creation’s grandeur make my soul sing? Can I be attentive enough to see the handiwork of God for what it is? Am I able to recognize creation as gift? Perhaps the forest canopy is a good place to listen to Genesis 1 or to Job 38. Perhaps a mountain stream is a place where I can practice seeing? I want to put myself in places where I can see and hear what is going on around me. I want to wake in the forest to the dawn chorus. Even though I may not recognize every singer, I can enjoy every song. Interestingly, the morning song of birds is sometimes referred to as matins, the same word used for the first prayer of the day. Even when seeking solitude one is never alone and I will join creation for morning prayers.
In order to become more attentive, I will pick up field guides and take them into the wild in order to learn to identify berries and trees by sight, birds and insects by sound. Perhaps this will help me to slow down and enjoy creation’s goodness. Will I ever be alert enough to hear the moment that cicadas sing the last notes of their day time song as katydids begin their evening chorus? Will I ever hear that moment when they overlap in harmony together?
I have come to realize that spiritual growth does not occur only in activities labeled as “spiritual.” I admit the wilderness has a tug on me. It is always pulling me in its direction. I have a natural preference to wade in streams, stare at sky, and hike the forests. However, I often find myself surrounded by tall buildings, concrete sidewalks, and asphalt lots. No matter the different places we find ourselves, it is important to keep our eyes open in order to capture the stories that may be found there. We cannot stop looking when walking alleys, sitting in coffee shops, talking on the street. We are always exploring beauty, searching for wonder, and looking for ways that God is at work. No matter the context, whether wading through creeks or concrete, whether surrounded by humans or other wildlife, may I recognize them all as gift.