31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Seven


During the only unscheduled time available to us while on that retired pastors’ retreat, we took a side trip to the Arboretum at the University of California Santa Cruz — a beautiful spot to practice paying attention. There was a tiny butterfly garden in one corner and this guy was flitting from flower to flower, sipping the nectar and showing off his magnificent coloring. This one is called a buckeye and is very common along the California coast. Strangely, however, I don’t think we’ve ever seen one in Santa Barbara during our 20 year sojourn in this place.

Look at the color on this dude. The basics are plain to the point of drabness — just plain ole brown. But then . . . there are those large orange eyes, the white lines and circles, and not clearly seen in this photo, a shimmering violet color with a hot pink edge in the center of the spots on the lower wings. (check it out here). 

This lovely small thing was unperturbed by our presence that warm, late summer afternoon, allowing me to take his picture pretty easily. And it is the picture I took that allows me to pay attention to him, to wonder about his evolution, to thank God for creating such beauty for our enjoyment, and to say a mental ‘thank you’ to the butterfly itself for its contributions to the pollination of plants up on that sea coast hillside. 

A scientist named Lorenz came up with the formula for what he called, ‘the butterfly effect,’ a long-held but previously unproven belief that tiny movements can have huge outcomes. Here’s the more complicated wording for this idea:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

Somehow, the whole idea of ‘chaos theory’ just reeks of God to me. To our eyes, so much of what happens in this world appears to be chaotic, doesn’t it? And yet when you add the word ‘theory’ to the word ‘chaos,’ somehow it takes on layers of meaning hidden beneath the turmoil that appears on the surface of things. I cannot know what ripples in the biosphere might be unleashed by this guy’s flapping wings. 

But God can. God does. Thank you, Lord, that the limits of my understanding do not in any way reflect the reality of life. Thank you that you are the Steadying Force in the midst of what looks like a whole lotta unsteadiness in this wacky world of ours. Help me to remember that truth — send butterflies my way when I get lost in hopelessness and worry. 



31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Five


There was an elderly redwood tree right outside our bedroom door. The top of it looked a bit forlorn, like it had survived a lot of rough weather. That tree had been around a while. But on my way back to our room after the allotted twenty minutes for mindfulness, I took another look at that old tree and found all kinds of new life springing out of its lowest point. The old codger was not givin’ up the ghost anytime soon with all that burgeoning newness!

Those of you who have subscribed to my newsletter know that I’ve been struggling a bit this year with the realities of aging, occasionally feeling a bit superfluous, even invisible in the youth-oriented culture around us. God has been poking me about all of that, reminding me that age is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Yes, I must move a bit more carefully. Yes, I tire a little bit more easily. Yes to all of those signs of time passing. But the key is to remember that time is not passing me by. If I so choose, my life can continue to be about newness until the day I leave this planet. As I watch my mom walk further and further into the vagueness of dementia, even there, I can see beauty, signs of newness. Even there.

So I will continue to smile, to pray regularly for kindness and patience to rise to the top in my conversations, particularly with the ones inside my own home, to nurture an open spirit and reject the closing of my mind to new ideas, new people, new directions.


I love this close-up shot of all that newness around the bottom of that old tree! 90% is green and flourishing. The other 10% is evidence of old things fading away and dropping to the ground. That’s how I want to live — fresh, green, willingly jettisoning old ideas and attitudes. May it be so.



31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Four


Walking back from the bridge to the open, green central space of our retreat center, I turned around and was struck by the contrast of the redwood giants, dark against the lightening sky. Somehow, it reminded me of life, how the dark juxtaposes itself right up against the light and together, they make a beautiful picture. It is also true, that if the angle of the sunshine were shifted slightly, those dark trees would not be nearly as dark as they appear at this time of day.

That, too, speaks truth to me. With the passage of time, the hopeful maturation of our minds and spirits, and the gifts that come our way in the meantime, those dark times look less menacing, don’t they? 

Both analogies hold, I think. Not necessarily together, at the same time — but they each cradle pieces of the truth for us. Life is both light and dark together. And the dark places can look different from different angles. I don’t mean to downplay the reality of darkness, no way. Life is often very hard, indeed. But because we know a God who majors in redemption, we can also know that darkness is not all there is. We can know that darkness and difficulty do not tell the whole story, nor do they last forever. They may mark us forever, that cannot be denied, nor should it be. Pain is pain and it ain’t fun. But as Leonard Cohen so famously and beautifully put it, it’s through the cracks that the light gets out. 

So today, I am praying that I can hold well the tension of light and dark, of suffering and success, of power and weakness, of wholeness and brokenness. What about you?



31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Three


After meditating briefly on the bridge, I turned back toward the center green area at the retreat site. The mist was breaking away quickly now and this bright spot of color called my name. Purple and green — a favorite color combo — and this particular plant is one that is ubiquitous in the California landscape. It’s called Mexican Sage and the hummingbirds love it. You hack it down every winter, right back to the ground, and by late spring it’s standing tall once again, it’s cheerful stalks inviting the returning busy-birds to partake of their nectar.

I want to be open to effective pruning. I don’t much like it, but I know that it helps me to be a sturdier and more productive plant, with blooms that are life-giving — for me and for others. And I wonder: who are the ‘hummers’ in my life? How can I reach out and offer sweetness to them? Will I trust the Gardener’s technique, believing that the good work of pruning and shaping will result in longer life, brighter colors?

Help me to trust you more, Lord. 


31 Days of . . . Paying Attention


Almost a year ago, I was invited to bring the morning devotions at a retreat for retired pastors and their spouses. When the schedule for that retreat arrived in my inbox about three months ago, I knew immediately what I needed to do. We were gifted with great teaching, excellent workshop opportunities, great meals to eat together, even a concert from a grand male quartet. What I did not see was any deliberate space for quietness, for solitude, for prayer.

So rather than give a mini-sermon immediately following breakfast those two days, I chose to offer two different kinds of prayer experiences. I described each briefly and then gave out printed guidance sheets and sent everyone off to find a quiet space for twenty minutes before our morning teaching session. The first day’s assignment was to pay attention —  to take a walk or find a bench somewhere and look, really look, at something (or things) nearby. I invited them to take some slow time to offer deeper-than-usual attention to something round about them and then to breathe out sighs of gratitude, maybe write about what they saw or draw a picture of it. Or take a photo.

I so enjoyed doing this myself that I vowed to do some deliberate attention-paying going forward. I invite you to go along with me this month as I, once again, join the invitation to write a post every day in October on a single topic. Most of these will be short, all of them will feature at least one photo. But then you knew that, didn’t you? For me, photography is a primary means of entering into both prayer and gratitude — which are so often the same thing.

Let’s pay attention together, shall we? Leave me a brief comment and tell me what YOU’ve been paying attention to as we move through this month together. Looking forward to this!