Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stop. Look. Listen.

When I was a little kid, my mom taught me to be very careful when crossing the street. I was supposed to remember three things: Stop, look, listen. It meant that I was supposed to get out of my own head, come to a complete and total stop, then take a really good look around and then, as a final precaution, listen as well as I can to make sure there are no invisible cars about to sneak up behind me and run me over. It was good advice. Now that I am an adult, I still stop at the red light, look around, and listen carefully before running the risk of jaywalking, which I am sure my mother would not approve of, even though I did the S-L-L routine. This morning, I was in church during the semi-annual "Worship Through Music" in which the choir and orchestra get together and present a really impressive piece of music, that, hopefully, people get a chance to really hear, if they are willing to stop, look, and then finally listen. Some people did. I know this because of the ones who came up to me afterwards and remarked about how extraordinary the experience was, and how much they loved the music. And that's good. But sitting out in the narthex (lobby to you unchurch-ey folks) I was amazed to see how many people simply do not have the skills to master that which was given to me at the tender age of five; namely, the ability to stop, look, and listen. I sat on the lowest stairs and watched people milling around with cups of coffee and children and big purses and, in one case, a magazine. They sat for a while in the chairs in the narthex, and drank their coffee. Then they got up, walked into the community center to check out the music in there, and shortly, returned to the narthex. Within five minutes, they'd be going to the restroom, or getting a refill, or headed to the main office area, or going up the stairs. Pretty soon I'd see them wander back to a different chair, sit for a while, then get up and mill about again. A few of them couldn't handle even that, and they walked out to the parking lot; perhaps there is something of interest to see there. The point was, they could not possibly see anything of interest, or hear anything that would hold them still, because they cannot stop. They have the attention span of children. No, on second thought, I suspect they have less than that. I have seen a child carefully attending to a butterfly or a beetle, stopping in their tracks to look at it, and listen for the sound of its wings. (For those who have really listened, you can in fact hear the sound of a butterfly's wings, but you have to be really still.) I went back and forth between being angry and being sad. They were like ants milling over a patch of asphalt, when three inches away an entire meadow is singing in the sunlight. They were so busy, so very busy with absolutely nothing at all. And as I watched them, I realized that I, too, was getting sucked into the busyness, watching them, forgetting the music. I had let my soul start wandering around with them, seeing only coffee cups, hearing only the patter of restless feet. Hence, the dandelion. I took this picture in my backyard yesterday, when the dog was happily digging up a rock to bark at. This dandelion is a good reminder of what we should be doing: STOP. Quit fidgeting. Stand still. Better yet, flop down on your belly in the grass. LOOK. The perfect symmetry of this dandelion puff is easily as complex as our best architecture, our finest sculptures, our most impressive skyscrapers. We have done nothing to eclipse that beauty which lies in our own backyard. That beauty we are about to spray with Roundup. LISTEN. You are bound to hear music. It might be in the wind, or in the rustle of leaves, or some distant birdcall, or the flutter of a moth. They are all part of the symphony, and it is playing all the time. Your heartbeat has a part, too, a quiet but insistent beat that must move in time with the rest of the orchestra. When you stop being part of the music, you die. We heard some wonderful music today. Well, some of us. Some of us just had coffee. Some have filled their souls; others have given themselves a lovely caffeine buzz. I'm not against the buzz, I just don't want to live in it 24/7. Sometimes, you just have to get back to what's real, what's rooted, what truly lasts. Stop. Look. And for God's sake: LISTEN.

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