There is extraordinary beauty in ordinary things. The trick is noticing them.
Poet Mary Oliver, in an interview with Krista Tippett, once said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” True, but I’m not sure the word “devotion” translates well in today’s culture. Maybe better “awe,” or “wonder,” or “reverence.” In which case, if “the fear (the awe and reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” then “attention” is where it all starts.
Dr. Mark Epstein, the well-known psychiatrist, once told the story about a spiritual retreat in which he was involved. The discipline was quite strict, as it sometimes is on retreats. He had promised himself, however, to celebrate the end of the retreat by sitting down and enjoying a cup of tea. When the time came, he made his tea, and sat down to relax with it. But instead of savoring the tea, his mind became distracted by all sorts of plans and concerns, anxieties and regrets playing like a recording in his mind. After a few minutes, he looked down and his tea cup was empty. “Who drank my tea?” He asked himself.
Unfortunately, many of us pass through our lives perpetually distracted, not noticing the wonder of the ordinary lives we live. Our minds may be replaying words or events we regret, worrying scenarios that may or may not ever occur; all the while we are missing the life we have been given to live.
It would be tragic, I think, some day to look around and say, “Who lived my life?”
Noticing the spectacular ordinary is the first step in recovering our lives from neglect.
A few nights ago, Debbie and I were getting ready to go upstairs to bed. We were just about to turn the lights out in the sitting room. For some reason I paused and looked up at the tulips she had bought to celebrate a surprise visit from our daughter Jessica and granddaughter Grace. Jessica loves tulips. Suddenly I noticed the tulips. Really noticed them. They glowed against the painting above the mantle. I picked up my iPhone and took a quick photo of them.
The tulips that night reminded me of what I often forget: the lives we are given are saturated with beauty and wonder. If only we will notice. The people with whom we live, the places we see most often, the things we pass by without a second thought, they all deserve attention — reverent, grateful, joyful attention.
Every sip of this cup of tea deserves to be savored.