Sunday, August 23, 2009

Purpose? Attention!

My friend Bob sends a morning scripture reflection to his congregation and has included me on the list. Last week, his scriptures were about purpose.

He wrote:
The word I keyed in for biblical search this week is purpose. It didn't occur to me that I would find "purposely." Do you ever do things "accidentally on purpose"? I love that saying, although I can't recall anything I have done lately that has been done accidentally on purpose. I should try to incorporate more of such into my life.
The scripture he shared was:
And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:15-16)
later in the week, of course, he included this famous passage about purpose:
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
He sent
this passage the next day and wrote:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
I am not sure my fascination is with words as much as it is in finding rare ones. I never thought to use the word "purposes" until now. In fact, the little American Heritage Dictionary I keep on my desk does not list it, at least not purposely. Even so there is power in the word, for how better to explain a sincere desire to give of ourselves than to reference the intention of our heart, our soul, to overcome the practicality and reasonability of the mind.
He ended the week: "Who better to know purpose than a man willing to be crucified?" And the quote was this:
Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)
This week, like Bob, I have been keying in on purpose. I am in a time of transition, and I've been feeling somewhat at loose ends. I've finished my summer pulpit supply. It's too hot and humid to garden or to do almost anything that is not in air conditioning. This week I have been training someone to take over some of my job responsibilities—so that means I have to figure out what I will be doing when she assumes those parts of my job. This week I also sent off my ordination paper to the local association committee who will review it prior to any ordination council being called. There is no news on the church search front. What is my purpose in life right now?

When I did a search on purpose in the Bible, this is the scripture that caught my attention:
God will fulfill God's purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. Psalm 138:8
Maybe I am being called to pay attention to my purpose, or since I have been reading the chapter in An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor called "The Practice of Paying Attention," maybe I just need to be paying attention.

Taylor makes the connection between reverence and paying attention. In early August we visited the Clark Art Institute's exhibit of some of the early work of Georgia O'Keeffe, "Dove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence," and I bought a few O'Keeffe postcards and cards that are sitting near where I do my morning prayers, so this quotation in particular resonated with me.
(p. 24) Small wonder we are short on reverence. The artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who became famous for her sensuous paintings of flowers, explained her success by saying, "In a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small, we haven't time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time." [quote from Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, New York, Random House, 1990, p. 270]
The practice of paying attention really does take time. Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than the blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else.
As the summer ends, I'm seeing a lot more of my friends. We're making time finally, because we said all summer that we'd get together and do something. The lesson here is that I have time now for attention, attention to small natural things, and attention to friends. Taylor suggests that reverence should not be reserved for an hour on Sunday, but in fact one of the reasons that people are not satisfied with church is that they want More; for her "More" is another way to name God:
(p. 7) No matter how hard I try to say something true about God, the reality of God will eclipse my best words. The only reality I can describe with any accuracy is my own limited experience of what I think may be God: the More, the Really Real, the Luminous Web That Hold Everything in Place.
Taylor wrote the chapters of this book as a series of responses to the question posed in an invitation to speak, "Come tell us what is saving your life now." (p. xv)

Perhaps that is what we each need to pay attention to: what is saving our life just now. What is the delight that sustains and lifts us up, or calls us to attend, or distracts and lulls us?

It might be the smell of the freshly crushed mint leaf, or the pungency of a bunch of basil.

It might be the drop of sweat dripping down neck or face.

It might be the sweetness of late season berries for breakfast.

It might be the susurration of fans.

It might be the pink roses opening in full bloom.

It might be the sight of my daughter's focused concentration as she completed her seven and a half foot Hogwarts style scarf in a week and a morning!

For now, I guess, my purpose is to pay attention, to see and hear and feel and taste and smell and be, knowing that in love, God will not neglect or forsake God's own work—me, you: each of us and all of creation.

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