Monday, August 27, 2012

Instructions for How to Live a Life: Pay Attention...

American poet Mary Oliver wrote “Instructions for How to Live a Life,” a poem I read on the day of my Sport and Spirituality class.  Its message applies to all of us.  She writes:
  1. Pay attention 
  2. Be astonished 
  3. Tell about it
So simple, yet so profound.  Why? Because it’s both true and it’s challenging.  Both the spiritual and the sporting life can benefit from these instructions.

In 2012, the first step is remarkably difficult.  It seems to be the world is doing all that it can so we don’t pay attention.  The music in many restaurants and department stores is so loud, I can barely think.  Flashing TV screens, billboards and other ads flood the public sphere.  The smart phone is certainly the perpetrator under the greatest attack, and often for good reason.

One can look through photographs, send text messages, read email, play games, and check their bank balance at one 2 ¼” by 4 ½” device.  Joe Posnaski, the auhor of “Paterno" named the power of this distraction when he described a scene the night Joe Paterno was fired. "Students and others had silently gathered at the Paterno statue, and Posnanski conveys the ultimate sign of 21st-century respect for this quintessentially 20th-century coach with a choice detail: A girl of twenty or so felt her phone vibrate but did not answer it.”  Indeed, she was paying attention.
When I look only at my iPhone, I fail to see the world around me as it is coming and going.  I remember that my friend was so busy taking photographs of Barry Bonds from his phone when he broke the homerun record, that he felt as though he missed the moment. Something was compromised. The sad fact is he did miss it; none of his photos turned out. Upsetting but also the material for a good story.

Life offers us so very much to pay attention to.  I know I need a reminder.  Fortunately several recent events in San Diego reminded me of step #1.
I saw the Giants play the Padres at Petco Park last weekend.  I love watching a road game.  What always takes some adjustment however the sound of the game!  Cheering is not necessarily a good thing (while fans can cheer for great defensive feats, offense generates a stronger audible response).

My friends and I arrived to purchase our tickets shortly after the game began.  I heard the roar of the crowd and thought “oh no, the Padres already scored?  Wait, I thought the game started a few minutes ago.”  You could only imagine my confusion when I arrived inside the ballpark to discover the Giants had already scored and it was still the top of the first inning.  What I heard, wasn’t a great defensive catch from a Padre.  No, what I heard were San Francisco Giants fans cheering on their team.

Petco Park is dubbed “AT&T South” for good reason. The amount of orange and black inside the yard was inspiring.  I delighted in knowing the Giants fans were so loud that even from outside the park, they made an impression.
  • I paid attention. 
  • I was astonished.
  • I couldn’t wait to tell about it.
After the game, my friends and I were standing outside the ballpark, debating where to go.  We were talking on a side street, when I noticed the two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum was walking toward me.  Had I been reading my text messages, I would have missed seeing “The Freak.” I may not have been paying attention to anything in particular, but I wasn’t distracted. 

I was so astonished, I didn’t react.  I couldn’t grab my phone to take a photo because I was so taken in by what was happening.  It is exciting to see someone you feel as though you know, in public.  One hundred thoughts entered my mind such as I can’t believe how thin he is and his clothes certainly reflect his personality.

I couldn’t wait to tell others about it.  And yes, the irony is I did so by sending several text messages!  It’s 2012. I get it.

The spiritual life is no different.  To notice the hand of God at work in our lives requires patience, rest, time for prayer and reflection and intentionality.  During Sunday’s homily, the congregation was told “don’t forget to find blessings in the busyness.”  So simple and yet so true.  Another good instruction on how to live a life.

As we move from summer into fall, I encourage you to pay attention.  Pay attention to the little things, the joy of sports and the beauty of spirituality.  You will be astonished.  Tell me about it.

Photo Credits
Mary Oliver

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