To pay attention, that is our endless and proper work

Instructions for living life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. – Mary Oliver

Chet Raymo, in his book, Natural Prayers, says the idea of prayer that seems to make the most sense to him, as scientist and lover of nature,  is paying rapt attention to the ‘exquisite detail of the World’ (capital letter mine)

I wonder. What are you paying attenion to?

This morning I am paying attention to the tulip poplars, covered in blossom, outside my bedroom window.  Eight years ago, when I planted them, I imagined this day, when they’d be tall enough to be upstairs bedroom trees, when I’d lift the blind to delight in the fullness of their limbs, like a girl’s arms brimming as she returns from the meadow.

This morning their leaves are beaded with remnants of last evening’s shower, and the morning slant of the sun is divulging the secret of the webs that weave their stories across their branches. Some folks thought I was crazy when I planted them so close to the house, but I knew I wanted to be surrounded by these blossoms one day, sitting here at my desk, in my grown-up tree house of sorts.

I once had a dream that my pocket (it was a shirt-breast pocket, you know, the kind that sits right atop your heart) was bursting with purple and gold flowers. The dream came during a time when I was certain that my life contained nothing but sorrow and pain. But I had just met don, my current love, and we had gone out on a first date the night before. The next morning, he sent flowers to my workplace…they were purple and gold.

I have named our garden here, ‘flowers in my pocket’, and it is blooming abundantly this spring. I am filled each day with delight. I taste it on my lips, it overflows from my heart. Last evening, that gorgeous man stood in the dark of the garden, beneath the window where I write and serenaded me. How delightful is that!

These late spring mornings offer the potential dawns when birds might be heard singing before the drone of rush hour traffic drowns them out — these long days, when the sun rises before the people’s clocks tell them it is time to rise to the routine, to hurry along on automatic transmissions. Perhaps one of these mornings the birds just might surprise someone awake. It’s cool enough– and warm enough –that windows might be left open to hear the serenade.

The earth this morning is saturated, the grasses in the field behind the house heavy, the rampant growth of spring sagging under the weight of so much water. Even the sky looks heavy, full of water, the early morning layers of grays appear to be like so many waves stretched out to the horizon. Perhaps I might imagine those traffic sounds as crashing waves, bless the people on their journeys o’er the sea to make their fortunes in lands foreign to me.

Yesterday I emptied the worm compost tub, a winter’s worth of peelings and leftovers, then spent the afternoon picking through the castings (ok, that’s just a polite word for worm poop) for the red wrigglers so that I might return them to fresh bedding in the bin. There’s supposed to be an easier way to accomplish this -with a screen and a light- but it never really works that well for me, and I don’t mind spending a slow afternoon with them. Ok, I imagine there are folks for whom such a day is foreign, but I was rewarded with a wheelbarrow full of gold the same. Today I passed out spadesful to the hungry, who are waiting yet to blossom.

Last year, butternut squash plants sprouted under every flower and shrub. It seems the worms don’t eat the seeds. How smart is that?, that the decomposing plant parts are consumed and transformed into nutrient rich soil for the seeds that are left behind. I wonder what unexpected gifts I’ll find growing this season.

I expect that all of this rambling fits together somehow, but I’ll let you figure that out. This morning, I just don’t need to know.  Yesterday, I read a description of prayer that was simply ‘pay attention’. This morning, that more than is enough for me.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
-mary oliver – in summer day

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