Practicing Awareness in the Ups and Downs

Blessed are those who weep, for they will be comforted. - Jesus

It’s been several months now since COVID 19 struck and we were all ‘sent to our rooms’, so to speak. Our focus pivoted from all that was going on back then, those many things consuming our attention, to fixating on stories related to the spread of a disease. For a very long time, since mid-March, we’ve talked about little else it seems.

But I want to invite you to go back a little further in time, to early January, an eternity ago it would seem! Varsity hosted an Epiphany service on the 6th, and as a part of that service, people chose a star with a word on it. The word was a simple invitation to a spiritual practice over this coming year. When I chose my star, I turned it over and saw the word “Awareness” and I heard God whisper, “Pay attention.” To what, I was uncertain. So I simply began a commitment to allow this to become a part of what would form my following of Jesus over this year. Over the last several months, through the ups and downs of what’s been going on around me, I’ve been trying to pay attention, to notice, to be aware, and keep wondering…

No surprise then that one of the first things I became ‘aware’ of was a deep sense of fear all around me. Fear of disease. Fear of the pending economic upheaval. Fear for the future. Fear of change. Fear in almost every story on the nightly news. It seemed to be in the very air we breathe. But in remembering my Epiphany word and my invitation to this spiritual practice, I took this sense of fear and sat with it. I wanted to consider questions like, Where am I personally experiencing it? What prompts it in me, stirs it, amplifies it? When I notice, what do I do with it?

I love how God in His graciousness speaks into our situations if we are listening. Opening my Bible one day, I read the following from Psalm 121, which begins with these words: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” It was as though God was saying, “I know what’s going on in your world, I know how you feel, I know what’s consuming your attention – but I’m inviting you to turn your gaze and look up. Look at me!” What a relief, this ancient encouragement to redirect my focus. Fear doesn’t seem to dominate the story I live in the same way if my eyes are on Jesus! I think that’s very good news!

But there is more, as I continue to practice awareness.

Recently, a song began to circulate on the Internet called “The Blessing”. Done as a virtual choir comprised of churches from across Canada, each line represents a part of the body of Christ from our great country. The first line is sung by a church on the West Coast, and by the time the song is completed, you are on the East Coast. It puts to music the blessing God gave Moses to proclaim over His people in Numbers 6: “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ Such lovely words, as meaningful to us today as they were to the ancient Israelites. I tell you this because of my reaction to the video. Every time I watch and listen to it, I still weep!

If we can all pause from our collective eye-rolling (because of course I’m weeping!), that visceral reaction invites attention. As I sit with it, I’m asking God to show me why this song so completely grabs my heart. And as I pay attention, a realization dawns. I am experiencing deep longing. A longing for God’s blessing; on me, on us, on our children, and on their children… As I continue to sit, not rushing this process, I also become aware of how the video pictures unity and it twists at my heart. The church all across Canada, people who are diverse in so many ways, united in their love for God. It is beautiful as it stands in contrast to our fractured world. This is what I long for. A living out of Jesus’ words from John 13:34b-f: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So I weep with a deep longing and pray, “Jesus, bless us and make us a people known for our love and unity!”

I am also trying to learn to pay attention to the gift of not being rushed. How has time to be still increased my ability to notice things I am often too rushed to see? It seems that for the first time I am seeing the tulips in my garden open and show off their many coloured splendor. I watch birds move into our bird houses and enjoy keeping tabs on the little families that hatch. I laugh at the squirrels trying to drink out of the birdbath, an entertaining process I assure you! I have more time to sit with God, fewer meetings to hurry off to. It feels regenerative, and as I live with awareness, I ask God, “What might I change when life goes back to some sense of ‘normal?’ Where might I find more space for rest/quiet?”

I observe conversations between disagreeing parties, some of which I am a part, but as I pay attention, try to be aware, I am led to ask, “What is my bottom line as I am part of conversations? Is it the need to be right/win? How often do I adopt the posture of listening? Am I tempted to assume wrong motives and assign them to people I don’t agree with?” Jesus just keeps whispering, “Pay attention.”

For the first time in 60 years, my Brunner family reunion was cancelled…My niece got married and we couldn’t travel to be with her... A family member lost a child, and could not have a funeral… Summer is coming and we will most likely not leave the province for our holidays… Each disappointment feels like a loss and I am not fussy about pain/sadness. But in trying to practice awareness, I sit with these all, holding them before God. Show me, I pray, what I might notice and learn from all these!

We are all in the same boat these days, living carefully for our own sakes and for the sake of others. In these moments, let me invite you to also practice awareness. Don’t miss this opportunity to notice what God is up to in your life and in our world.

Blessings on you

Susan Thiessen

The Blessing, Canada

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