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Monday, October 01, 2012

Pay Attention

Kenn Princeton Beal

This weekend, I downloaded a few more of my CDs onto iTunes so I could upload them onto my iPad, iPhone and iPod.

It's been like finding old friends you haven't heard from in a long time.

One of the CD's I uploaded was "God Help Us" by the Miserable Offenders.  Lord, do I miss them! I selfishly harbor a wish that they would reunite - even if for just one more performance which someone would record and turn into a CD for their many loyal fans.

The two women who made up the group - Deborah Griffin Bly and Ana Hernandez - have gone their separate ways - as artists sometimes do. (Are you reading this, you two?) There are many songs of theirs that I love, but this one has been haunting me today - especially these words:
This is it, more or less
And who would ever guess
This is the best of times
This is the worst of times
And it's passing
Pay attention.
If you read this blog with any regularity, you've no doubt heard me repeat that wise aphorism, "The Bible is not a rule book, it's a guide book."

In order to gain any wisdom from Scripture - or, for that matter, from life - you have to pay attention.

Pay. Attention.

Yes, there is a cost attached to attention. And, it's not just about your eyes or your ears.

The artist Ken Princeton Beal writes,
"When we listen with our heart, and soul, and mind together, we are listening to our creator, to God. Listening separately with only the heart, or the soul, or the mind is knowledge. Listening with the heart, soul, and mind together is wisdom.
Anyone can acquire knowledge. What is done with that knowledge - how it is applied - is the true test of learning. Listening with heart, soul and mind together is wisdom. In order to attain wisdom, you must pay attention.

When I was in seminary, one of my professors said that the role of religion was not to give you answers to life's questions; rather, it is to get you to pay attention to life.

Every now and again, he would pass me in the hallway or around the seminary close and he would smile and ask, "Are you paying attention?"

I'm sure I'm not the only one to whom he said that, but I'm quite certain that, with me, it was intentional.

I am genetically predisposed to busyness. I like being busy. I like having things to do. People to meet. Places to go. Things to discover. Questions to ask and have answered.

It comes - at least in part - from being part of  a second generation immigrant family. We had something to prove. A dream to attain. Busyness made us feel worthy. Important. Significant.

I've come to learn that busyness is a drug - a powerfully addictive drug. It alters your sense of perception. It numbs the senses and inflates the ego and can place one directly on the path that leads into the Land of Grandiosity.

I confess that there are moments when someone comes up to me and says, "Excuse me, I know you're a very busy person but if I could have just a moment of your time......" when my ego kicks into hyper drive and I can feel my sense of self importance inflating.

See?  I'm busy. I must be doing something important. And, if I am doing something important, I must be a Very Important Person.

I've come to understand that it's all an illusion.

There is no person of greater importance than the one who has time for the seemingly insignificant.

I'm not always that person, but I'm working on it by understanding my insignificance in the grand scheme of things, and how very important work that is. Somewhere within me beats the heart of a once young, noble, altruistic girl who thought she could save the world. This woman now understands that I can only save the world one person at a time - beginning with myself.

That's not narcissism masquerading as spirituality. It's humbling. It's challenging. It's empowering. It's exciting. And, it begins with paying attention. When religions and religious people understand this, and help other people to do this, we can save the world. Or, at least, begin to change it for the good.

Paying attention provides the architectural framework for an ethical life.  Paying attention helps you to answer the question at the center of the human enterprise: How, then, shall I live?

I have come to understand that, in those years when I was content - well, somewhat - to rely on my religion to supply the answers for that question, I was being essentially indolent.  Lazy.

Of course, I was carefully taught that it was an act of humility to surrender to the great thinking of - mostly white dead - men who were smarter and wiser than I and had dedicated their entire lives to knowledge and wisdom. Who was I - little, insignificant me - to disagree with such great minds?

"Trust and obey / for there's no other way / to be happy in Jesus / but to trust and obey."

Religion, I was carefully taught, was a "binding together" of these great thoughts and beliefs, to which I was to bind myself. If I didn't believe every word, comma, semi-colon and period, I was - gasp! - a "Cafeteria Catholic" - someone who picked and chose among various thoughts and beliefs and fashioned for myself an ethical way of life.

Imagine! Fashioning a belief system for oneself! Using one's mind, heart and soul to yes, read and consider what other great minds had once thought, but to determine the path God had set out before me to learn how to love God, myself and others.

Why, it was positively, absolutely......unthinkable!


It's 'religious sloth', is what it is. Eventually, I came to understand this. I grew up. I matured. I became an Episcopalian. Ever since, I've never worked harder at what it means to be Christian - and, trying to live that belief in my life.

Mark Twain wrote, "whenever you find yourself among the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."

It's a human problem, as old as time. 

Writer Sophie Rebekah Beal (I'm not sure she's related to the artist) notes,
The ancient prophet Isaiah of the Hebrew Bible essentially threw up his hands and said, "I'm living in this complicated world full of imperfect people! I don't have any answers. So how do I live amongst all this?"

G-d responds to Isaiah, "Go and say to this people: 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.'" (Is 6:9) Well that really clears some things up, doesn't it? But there's another translation of this verse, based on the Greek version, that reads:
You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. This people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.
I think some religions help us to hardly hear with our ears and help us keep our eyes closed to what is all around us.  Or, as Deborah Griffin Bly writes: What is hiding in plain sight. 
Learn what you must learn,
go where you must go;
when you stop running, stand still, listen,
you will know that you can find God where you are
hiding in plain sight.
We run and run, constantly busy with the frenetic pace of life. When we finally stand still, we are sometimes too exhausted to hear or think or feel for ourselves and know that, where we are, God is.

That's the only reason I can come up with for the recent flurry of religious foolishness.

Archbishop John Myers
Newark (NJ) Archbishop John Myers, recently wrote a letter last week saying Catholics have a “duty” to cast their vote based on opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Catholics must embrace his views, he said, and those who refuse should not take Holy Communion.

This was preceded by the announcement from the Roman Catholic Church in Germany which determined that all those who declined to pay their "church tax" (resulting in $16 billion per year for the church) would be denied the sacraments of the church - that includes communion, absolution, matrimony, even burial.

Then, there's a group of Muslims who appealed to the United Nations to ban insults on the Prophet Mohammed. But, not Jesus. Or, The Buddha. Or any other prophets of God. Just Mohammed. Because, you know, Islamophobia is all the rage (as it were). No Christians being persecuted anywhere. No Jews, either.

Yes, there are limits of free speech. Yes, we all need to practice religious tolerance. I got it. Understood. But, okay, boys - Christian, Muslim and Jew. Time to take a deep breath. Time to open up the eyes and ears of your mind, your heart and your soul.

Time to throw up your hands like the Prophet Isaiah and say, "I'm living in this complicated world full of imperfect people! I don't have any answers. So how do I live amongst all this?"

Time to listen to how God answers. Listen. Pay attention.

One thing you of which you can be certain: It's not all about you. And, it is all about you.

It's about how you choose to live in a world of pluraform truths and determine what is true for you. And, to understand - with your mind, heart and soul - that what is true for you may not be true for others. It is to find the courage to live what you know is true, even though others may not only disagree with you, but they may mock and deride you for what you believe and how you live what you believe.

Support your local sacred musician
It's really hard to pay attention in today's world where so many people - so many things - compete for our attention.

It's so much easier to shut them out - to shut ourselves down - to follow blindly on the path someone else has set - than to pay attention to that which is placed on our own path in life.

And then, one day, you come to understand that nothing else in life is more important than this moment in time - what is right before you - hiding in plain sight.

You discover that this moment is it, more or less. And who could ever guess that this moment - right here, right now - is the best of times. It's also the worst of times.

And, it's passing.

Pay attention.


All Saints Church, Pasadena said...

One of my Favorite. Albums. Ever.

Sister BJ said...

OK... How is it that you can write about the very essence of what I am coming to talk with you about on Friday. You are either a prophet or just plain spooky. SBJ

Achieve Order said...

Good news! An answer to prayer? Ana and Deb will be together again as The Miserable Offenders at the Kanuga Christian Formation Conference. For more information, please visit The conference will be June 10-14 in Hendersonville, NC. The keynoters will be Shane Claiborne (The Simple Way) and Matthew Moretz ("Father Matthew Presents")

It is going to be BEYOND wonderful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mine too. Except, maybe "Keeping the Baby Awake". Okay, it's my favorite Christmas album.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BJ - It's not about you. And, it's all about you. ;~)

Ana said...

So, if you'd paid attention to that Support Your Local Sacred Musician post, you might think that Deb and Ana were sitting in the same room for the first time in 14 years, planning dinner at a Thai restaurant. We were also working on a reconciliation up close and personal like.
Our first rehearsal is this Friday, which is not about us, but all about us, as you mention in your post. God is good, and hard work. Grateful for it, and for you!
Download God Help Us here:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, I read that you were thinking about having Thai and talking but that was - what? - in August? I'm THRILLED that it looks like it's actually going to happen.

You heard it here first, people. WOO HOO!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Achieve - Wow! A date and everything. My favorite musical group at my favorite conference center - and, plenty of time to save up for the trip and the event.

O....!!! M....!!! G...!!! How excited am I? Answer: Out of my head excited is how excited I am.

Woo hoo!

Deborah Griffin Bly said...

My dear Elizabeth,
I am beyond delighted to read your words (as usual, and as ever). Indeed The Miserable Offenders are rising again, and I'm thrilled. Ana and I had a wonderful time when we got together... even after such a hiatus in our friendship we just started talking and laughing as if no time had elapsed. It would have been better if I didn't crash my car,but now i have another car and I will be driving up to Ana's on Friday.Thank you for all your kind words. So pleased, and a bit embarrassed by your quotes and kindness. Much LOVE, always.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

"Breathe on me" is the one that sends chills up and down my spine. I would love to turn it into 4 part and create a Taizé-like rendition of it. But since I can barely read music, well...I would need someone else to do that. LOL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Deborah - Girl, you are da bomb! I can't wait to hear you and da utter bomb, Ms. Ana, singing together again. Drive safely. There are lots of people who love you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - Maybe Ana and Deb will do that for congregational use. I love their version of "Breathe on Me Breath of God". Truly....inspired.