Pay Attention

Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. ‘Setting the Inner Compass’, is a column where I share poems that I find meaningful and hope others do as well.

“…beauty and grace are preformed whether or not we will or sense them.
The least we can do is try and be there.”

Annie Dillard
A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

Poetry is one way, in Annie Dillard’s words, we can try to be there. Modern life is busy. Most of us spend a lot of time looking at small screens, taking in lots of information and balancing our schedules. Reading poems helps me slow down. And certain poems remind me to stop and see the beauty and holiness of creation. Poems remind me not to just “take a sip” of creation but to really stop and drink deeply from the well of creation, to “Pay Attention”.

Many of the poems of Mary Oliver invite us to do this. In my favorite, “Wild Geese”, she writes:

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination. ”

Wild Geese was first published Dream Work (1986) and is in the collection Devotions (2017).

She gets at this theme again in the poem “The Summers Day” :

“I don’t know exactly what prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass…”

The Summer Day was first published in House of Light ( 1990) and is in the collection Devotions (2017).

In the poem “The Sun,” she begins with wonder at creation:

“Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon…

The Sun was first published in New and Selected poems Volume One (1992) and is in the collection Devotions (2017).

The poem ends with a penetrating question:

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning invites us to pay attention in these lines from her long poem “Aurora Leigh” :

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Aurora Leigh (1856) is an epic poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Poetry invites us to pay attention. To pause and pay attention to creation. I don’t usually share my poems but decided to share this one about how when creation helped make the idea of God real.





The idea became real in
the sliver of glistening
sunlight, shining bright
in the cascading waterfall.

The idea became real when
I realized that every day
the steam flows the same way
steadily, week after week.

The idea became real in
the white feathers on the sparrow,
a strip of feathers so narrow
you can only see it when it spreads it wings.

The idea became real when
I noticed on the side of the trail
an eastern box turtle that pulled in its head and tail
the pattern on its shell was stunning.

I was amazed at squares and triangles
of red, orange, and black
spread across the shell on its back,
its home, its shelter, so beautiful.

I was twenty on that day when I also saw
a young spotted newt, a tree frog, and wild rose
you never know what creation will disclose
with joy my senses did explode.

I learned my lessons well in church,
lessons about God in a colorless room
I was taught to be afraid of impending doom
if I didn’t believe the things I was taught.

Believe it, I did but it never made as much sense
as the beauty I saw on the hike that day
a long time ago, as I found my way
to the pond at the end of the trail.

In natures beauty the idea of God became real.
My heart was full, awake, and alive.
I was twenty, my eyes opened wide.
I felt God, a feeling I can’t really describe.

The stream, the sparrow and
the orange and black box turtle
caught my heart at a time so spiritually fertile.
It fed me then and the memory does now.

The beautiful world I saw
on that trail up to Sunfish Pond
left me only one way to respond:
awe, reverence, and wonder.

On that trail in north New Jersey
back in the hippie days of 1967
my long-haired self-saw a glimpse heaven.
So close and so far from that colorless room.


“SUNFISH POND SPRING 1967” by Dave Brown from the forthcoming collection,
I don’t Usually but…

Rev. Dave Brown is a writer, creator/host of Blues Vespers, one of the PNW Interfaith Amigos and former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA. He serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable. ([email protected]).

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