Do you ever wonder why some things seem invisible? Why don't you see the salsa in the refrigerator door? How can you walk right by someone you know and not see them until they say your name? You see right through them. It is an irony, I suppose, that even the sighted can be blind. And the hearing can be deaf, too. You tell a friend, "I didn't know!" They respond, "But I told you."
Our deafness deeply concerned Jesus. He repeatedly asked his disciples why they didn't see or hear. Why they seemed to hear but "not understand." Why they could see but "learn nothing" (Mark 4:12). It seems revelation is around us and no one is noticing.
Have you ever considered that every spiritual practice begins with noticing? Paying attention to God opens the door to prayer. Giving and receiving love is a transaction in noticing someone besides yourself. And unless you are tuning your awareness, you won't recognize God's word even when it is as near as your own breath.
It is virtually impossible to notice things when we are on autopilot. If we think we know what we will see, if we have already been there and done that, we tend to miss things. We aren't expecting the voice of God, or the veil to lift on things transcendent. Everything is the same old same old.
"Listen." Expectations often determine what we see and hear. Expectations also impact what can actually happen. Jesus' neighbors in Nazareth didn't expect him to be anything other than ordinary. Their blindness kept them from seeing any miracles. The religious establishment of Jesus' day also expected one particular sort of Messiah—not the Jesus sort. So in spite of what they saw and heard, they disbelieved their eyes and their ears.
Opening our eyes to see and our ears to hear is the foundation of any spiritual practice. Jesus would spend nights in prayer because he noticed his need of time with his Father. Jesus hung out with people because he noticed they were sheep without a shepherd. Jesus noticed! Jesus "saw" the rock on which he would build his church in the disciple who denied him three times. Jesus heard faith in the plea of a desperate father. "I believe. Help my unbelief."
We live in a world where internal and external noise are the norm. Furthermore, we are in such a hurry to get to the next thing—the thing in the future—that we miss the sacrament of the present moment. Now is the only moment we have for living. Jesus could look at the lilies and the birds and notice how God was speaking through them. The moment held revelations about trust if one would notice.
Sometimes I wonder why people don't see and hear God. I have begun to suspect spiritual deafness and blindness arise from a propensity to see what is wrong with just about everything. Poised to pontificate, elaborate, and expostulate, we can't wait to set someone straight. We aren't really listening. We are thinking about how to speak our piece—not our peace. Jesus' disciples had this leaning. They told Jesus, " ‘Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn't in our group.' ‘Don't stop him!' Jesus said. ‘No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me' " (Mark 9:38-39). We/they dichotomies often result from not really listening.
God puts a premium on the simple disciplines of seeing and hearing: "Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life" (Isaiah 55:3). These two qualities—a seeing eye, a hearing ear—are qualities of a heart awake to God.
One day Moses was at work—doing his job. He noticed something unusual—a burning bush. He didn't ignore it. He didn't think, "Oh another mirage." He went over and looked. This single act of paying attention changed the course of his life. "When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush" (Exodus 3:4a).
When God saw Moses looking, then he called. God wasn't looking for someone with great political connections or the best education money could buy. He wasn't concerned about the fact that the last 40 years of Moses resume read like a parking lot attendant. God was looking for someone who was looking. And when God called out his name, "Moses! Moses!" Well, Moses listened and said, "Here I am!" (Exodus 3:4b). That "Here I am" landed Moses on holy ground.
The discipline of seeing and hearing is not some esoteric expertise you learn in graduate school. It is not a gift doled out to only the beautiful or resolute. It is something available to us all. An open invitation to find God. "Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life" (Isaiah 55:2-3).
God calls us each by name, just as he called Moses, Samuel, Martha, and Simon. Are you expecting the Holy One to call your name? Or do you think that kind of thing doesn't happen these days? Are you tuned in or tuned out? What expectations are running your life? Expectations that it's up to you to get while the getting is good? Or are you expectant that the God who dreamed you up before the morning stars sang together still wants to be known by you?
The Lord is seeking people who will look and listen for God in the ordinary and everyday things of life. Jacob once spent the night in a place somewhere between Beersheba and Haran. And in the morning he said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn't even aware of it!…What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!" (Genesis 28:16-17).
Friends, this is an awesome place. The kingdom of Heaven is near, and God is inviting you to notice.
You can begin the practice of noticing simply and today:
1. Notice the ups and downs in your day. How is God using this awareness to reveal the things that give you life and the things that drain life away?
2. Become aware of when your body is telling you something: the sweaty palms, clenched jaw, tight neck muscles, headache, etc. Take a moment to welcome God into the moment and into your body.
3. Decide to practice listening more than speaking for a day. What is revealed about yourself and others?
4. Before you answer your cell phone¬—take a second to thank God for the person on the other end of the phone line. What happens as you begin to do this?
5. Notice what you love about the people in your life. Tell them what you notice.
6. Thank God for the five senses he has given you—so you can notice and receive the world around you.
"I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance" (Ephesians 1:18).
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun currently co-pastors Redeemer Community in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with her husband, Doug. She is the author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.