by Steve Cochrane
“This is the first and wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver
The spiritual discipline/practice of “turning aside” seems very simple but needs to be intentionally cultivated. “Turning aside” is another way to say “paying attention” to people, events or details of life right in front of us. It seems so easy to practice, yet often we are busy and miss out on great treasures.
In Exodus 3:1-6 Moses, after forty years in the wilderness, was in his normal routine of daily “keeping the flock” (vs. 1) of Jethro, his father-in-law. He had done it over and over again, learning humility and faithfulness, perhaps thinking this will be his lot in life for the rest of his days on earth. But on this particular day, he sees a bush burning. Had Moses ever seen a bush on fire before? Probably many times. On this occasion, he paid attention, and instead of continuing on, said “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” (vs. 3) Something was very different about this bush: it was burning, yet not consumed, and the Angel of the Lord appeared within. (vs. 2).
Moses could have kept going. The bush not consumed, even with an Angel present, was not enough to force him to stop. But Moses did stop, turn aside, and pay closer attention. The passage goes on: “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses’!” (vs. 4)
Turning aside to look closer was the response that activated the Lord’s invitation to a new place of revelation and vocation. Though usually not as dramatic as seeing a burning bush, for us it is a similar pattern. We pause or stop to look closer, to pay attention, and new doors of awareness and grace open. These can be very small occurrences, or things that shape us for the rest of our lives.
On a beautiful summer day a few years ago in the Pacific NW of the USA, my oldest daughter was learning to drive on the highway for the first time. I sat in the passenger seat of the car, deeply aware that if she made a mistake, I had no ability to save us from a potentially serious accident. But as we merged on the highway, I looked over at her again. In that moment, (perhaps my fear helped with focus), I saw her. I paid attention, looked closer, and saw a beautiful, poised, sixteen year old woman, not a little girl anymore. It was what some call a “transcendent” moment, that opens space for deeper reflection. Something more was going on beyond what was going on.
This discipline of paying attention is an important one to cultivate. Like any spiritual discipline, the more we practice it the more it will become a habit. So how do we cultivate this discipline? Here are five ways:
1) Start the day inviting the Holy Spirit to help you to see.
Each morning, take a heart posture of surrender, by being available to see and pay attention to the people, circumstances and details of your day.
2) Be expectant for answers to that availability.
It is not a dramatic prayer, but a simple expectation that God will answer in His own way, and you will in His grace be ready.
3) Slow down as led by the Holy Spirit.
In what areas of your daily life can you cultivate a slower pace, a greater openness to seeing things you may not see moving faster?
4) Remove the “clutter” from your life
Some things that fill our life are not truly vital, whether material “stuff” or attitudes of resentment, jealousy or pride. What can we prune from our lives to create greater space for grace to activate?
5) Cultivate gratefulness at the end of the day
The discipline of gratefulness is the twin to paying attention, the other side of the same coin. As we pay closer attention, our hearts fill with thanks. We see in new ways, and in seeing we receive new perspectives, even perhaps on very difficult situations or people.
Practicing the discipline of turning aside leads to new revelation of God’s character, even as it did with Moses in Exodus 3. We become more grateful as a lifestyle, opening further space for a larger life of generous grace for ourselves and others.
Why not try it today.
For more information from the ALLC on Spiritual Disciplines, click here.