Last week when I spoke at Lifeline, I mentioned the concept of “noticing” as being a new principle that has greatly facilitated the process of transformation in my life over the past year. During the Q&A time, someone asked me, “Can you explain ‘noticing’?”
It’s kind of a new word in my vocabulary. I notice that I use the word “notice” a lot when talking about spiritual formation (pun intended). The first time I heard “noticing” as a concept was from my colleague and friend, Kathleen Acker. She used it in a way that was proactive. Usually, noticing is reactive; that it’s something that we reflexively do when something else is trying to get our attention. But her use of noticing was more of a spiritual practice, involving a movement toward a frame of mind that is observant.
I heard the word more from the readings and lectures of Ruth Haley Barton. Here she connected “noticing” as a way of humble reflection. This goes against the grain of our human nature where we judge or react to what we see or experience. We see a person yell at a person and we judge them as being an “angry person.” Or, closer to home, we yell at someone and we immediately judge them or ourselves or both. “Noticing” involves taking a few steps back and a few steps down (off the Judgment seat) and asking God the question, “What is really going on here?”
Noticing is a natural by-product of a well-examined life. The Examen is a spiritual practice where we evaluate the events, thoughts and emotions of the day past in the Presence of God and ask, “What is really going on here?” (Ps 4:4, 139:23-24). The Examen is not a way to beat ourselves up over the sins and mistakes we made. Nothing could be further from the truth. While not denying the fact of our sin and shortcomings (and the need to make restitution, when required), the Examen gives us the opportunities to ask God questions, like: “What underlying things influenced that sin?” or “What is behind the sense of shame/desolation that I felt when that happened?”
As well, the Examen gives us opportunity to notice the ways that God “showed up” during our day. There are so many things that God does for us that go unnoticed. The Examen gives us an opportunity to “turn those blessings into praise.” We also notice those things that lift up our soul, those “spiritual endorphins” (the ancients called these “consolations”). As we ask God to show us what is behind our consolations, we begin to see patterns in our lives – some of which are good, as well as some of which point to our dark side or false self.
But one does not have to wait until the Examen at day’s end to utilize the practice of noticing. As worshipers in the everyday ordinary, every moment – in a split second – can be noticed and pondered upon. In one of my early blogs, “The Attitude of Wonderment” (Jan 16 and May 7, 2013), I discussed the power of noticing the aspects of God’s creation that we normally take for granted. Noticing the small things of God are extremely powerful, renewing and transforming.
As well, noticing helps when my soul gets “disturbed.” For instance, there have been times when someone said something caustic to me and my normal reaction would be: to get defensive, prove myself right, or go “sideways” with that person (kind of a “tit for tat” stance). But the practice of noticing has helped me to step back, to not judge that person (or myself), but to simply notice and to ask the question before God, “Why are you so disturbed, O my soul?” (Ps 42:5, 11).
In that quick moment of time, the Spirit will give me what I need: to regain my balance (He is the gyroscope of my soul), to regroup by taking a deep breath (both physically and spiritually), to renew my thinking, and to respond appropriately. Noticing becomes my invitation for God to enter into that moment and transform me – albeit in the microcosmic instant of an everyday ordinary event.
For this reason, Whole Life Worshipers should become experts at “noticing.” Rather than judging and reacting to bad situations, we step back and allow God to enter both our situations and our souls. Rather than blasting through our days like automatons, we proactively look for the new movements and new mercies of God; discovering wonderful and empowering graces that would have otherwise been lost to our perceptions.
And as we do, others will “notice” how different we’ve become.