Learning to notice

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

- Mary Oliver

Luke 24:13-35

Here is something I’ve realized since Easter: it is really, really hard to look for the Living One.  Resurrection is so difficult to recognize.  
Noticing life isn’t easy. Which is silly, actually, because it’s all around us all the time.  
Within us, between us, around us, life is everywhere. 
It’s greater than death, even, but, still… we really struggle to see it.

I held my baby nephew last night as he fell asleep. Gazing into my eyes until he drifted off.  Nothing else but trust and comfort, sleepiness and presence.

I played with my little foster niece.  She watched me make meatloaf. Standing on a chair peering over the counter, she exclaimed about each ingredient and pointed dramatically as I added it to the bowl.
She helped me set the table for dinner, clapping after she put each fork beside its plate, and pausing once to shout over her shoulder, for no apparent reason, “I love you, Vincent!”
I don’t know what will happen to her in her life.  And I cannot even take in what has happened to her in her past, but the miracle of this tiny child and her infectious spirit made me feel grateful for life.

And it dawned on me that for all the struggle to try to notice God, God is there all the time, and maybe these are the ways I've seen the Lord.  Maybe I could recognize Jesus in those moments that surprise me, when I feel gratitude well up and I notice I am alive. 

And then I began to see more from my week - like the switch that happened in the horrible mid-April blizzard, when I was dreading every second of dreary gray and yearning, longing, for green, and suddenly I saw lightening and heard rolling thunder as the sky spit out snow pell mell all over everything, and all at once the absurdity of it all made me laugh aloud.  And the next thing I knew we were taking out the Easter bunny marshmallows and filling mugs with cocoa before school (unheard of!), and tromping off feeling like explorers and survivors, all snow drunk and flurry dizzy, scrambling up snowbanks and laughing at our hair getting caked with blowing ice and I was watching my children burst with joyous life in the midst of the storm.

Or how later that day I was stuck on a hill, my car wheels spinning slipping me closer and closer to the back of a parked BMW, when an acquaintance walking by waved at me, and then stepped up and wedged herself between my car bumper and the beemer- stomping both feet in boots unceremoniously up on the BMW’s rear bumper, and pushing my car out.  Then not 24 hours later I was able to pay it forward to another startled and struggling stranger, when I cheerfully jumped up onto the back of a minivan to shove her car out of her icy parking spot.

This week my favorite children’s author wrote on facebook about getting an anonymous letter from a sad adult thanking her for her characters, for their love and triumph and humanity, and it made this writer feel stunned and grateful and overwhelmed, and made her call herself is a “spy for hope” in the world.


Jesus is everywhere.  Right here, as close as your breath and your beating heart.  In grateful strangers and surprising helpers and the joy of children and the trust of infants in your arms and the ability to share with each other.  And while life and the Living One seem so hard to recognize in the abstract, when I adjust my vision and begin looking in the concrete and real, suddenly I notice Jesus all over the place.

My friend texted me a message of encouragement during my solo-parenting stint this week; she seemed to know just what I needed to hear just when I needed to hear it.

I get to start most week day mornings on a treadmill next to two amazing, insightful, funny and wise women, and we wrestle our way into wakefulness and vent out our frustrations and lap up each other’s advice and encouragement.  And on Wednesdays I get to sit with a bunch of crazy preachers gathered around a table and looking for Jesus in the word enough to head out and invite our people to look for him yet again too.
This week I’ve noticed again how my children have teachers who get them.  It’s hard to imagine something more significant for their day to day lives, and it is certainly something that would be painfully obvious in its absence, but when have I stopped to recognize and celebrate its presence?

I started out the week wondering if I could see it. What is my story of resurrection? Where is Jesus?  Abstract, hypothetical, disconnected from my life.  Some straining, spiritual kind of searching.  And I’ve ended the week seeing the Living One.

Yesterday the lady at the corner market came out from behind the counter to grab me a different bunch of gerber daisies, bright and sunny, because the one I had chosen looked a little wilted, and she really wanted me to have one that would last, because as she said, “We need to brighten up this monochromatic landscape!”

On Friday morning I got to hear about a friend's trip to South Africa – and see her photos of children and hear her own wonder at attending a funeral entirely in the Xhosa language complete with a mournful march to the grave, a burial and a parade home.  She was moved at being part of a much needed food drop for a displaced community, and laughed with delight as she shared of watching women dance and sing and rev each other up each morning before sitting down to their looms.

And on Monday night I sat in a pub next to one friend, anxious after her first day of grad school, on the brink of what she’s wanted to do for a long time and wondering if she will be able to handle it, yet she and another friend were willing to drop it all and meet me at a moment’s notice to share sweet potato fries and hard cider on the opposite side of town.  And we listened to people tell stories of yearning and faith and living and struggle and hope, and watched strangers’ eyes light up, and well up, and heads nod in recognition and felt the palpable weight of shared living, as voices sing along.

I am thankful. I am hopeful. 
I see life and love in the world. 

Living is really hard. And we are so aware of that so much of the time. We screw up a lot and other people screw up a lot, and there is so much corruption and evil and things feel so broken so much of the time, and we attune ourselves to that - so that is what we notice.  That is what we forward to our friends and post on our walls and lament about to our neighbors and spend our energy thinking about and our voices talking about.  And all the while in millions of little and big ways, life and hope are breaking through, and love is being shared, and people are being mended, and God comes near and walks with us, and we go on talking about God’s absence and how the darkness has won, and do not notice what is happening right there in our path.

These followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they walk with him and talk with him and listen to him and all the while they grieve, missing him, and failing to recognize him right there on the journey next to them. 
And then, after he breaks bread and gives it to them and their eyes are opened and he vanishes, they turned to each other and said say, looking back, Friends, were not our hearts burning within us?

So often we see life in retrospect. 
I want to learn to see life as it is unfolding.
I want to see Jesus and know Jesus and recognize Jesus and be a little bit brave about bringing it up.
I want to have people I can turn to and say – Did you see that?
Did you hear that too?
Something was happening there, right? 
I felt it, did you feel it too?  Were not our hearts burning within us?
I want people I can run home to and say, You’ve got to hear what just happened to me!  and barely get the story out before they are telling me their own tales of hope and wonder and daily-life love.

This is church, friends.  
They got together and told stories about Jesus. 
They reminded each other what it is all about.
They ate bread and talked about when he broke it,
and drank wine and talked about what it meant when he poured and shared it.  
They sought out others with whom they could say, Will you listen to what has happened to me?
And who would say back to them, It’s true! God is here! I see God in your life. I feel God in mine.

We did this last week when we heard three ordinary miracles – in fact we heard three stories loaded with ordinary miracles.  Testimonies, witnesses to the risen One, living and moving and healing and hoping in the world and pulling us into God’s schemes of love.

Life is prevalent and enduring, and also hard to pay attention to and easy to miss, and we need practice. It is so so easy to forget to look.
It is more than natural to forget to listen.
But God is redeeming the world, and is starting with you. With me.  In each one of our lives. Our ordinary and miraculous lives.

So let’s practice together.  Let’s practice noticing life. Looking for the Living One.
In the season of Lent we confessed our brokenness and need, we confessed our trust and faith, and now in this season of Easter we get to confess the places we see life, the stories of resurrection hope.

The followers of Jesus converged from their various experiences and stammered out, We have seen the Lord! and answered each other, Us too! He is risen indeed! 
We will be those people tonight.

We are going to have a chance to share, to practice noticing, and to tell each other how we too have seen the Lord.

How have you seen the Lord in small or big ways this week?
This week, where have you been a spy for hope?  
A witness of life?   A sharer in love?
How has your heart burned within you?

 When you finish sharing, I invite you to say, I have seen the Lord.
And we will reply, He is risen indeed!

And you, dear reader, what about you? How have you seen the Living One this week?

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