Sabbath Evenings – Holy Distractions
Holy: Set apart
Distraction: a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else
I love Annie Dillard’s books. Annie is best known for narrative non-fiction – the retelling of true stories that come alive to the reader. My favorite is Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. Tinker Creek is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia. Annie writes about her meanderings and observations at Tinker Creek—of the plant and animal world . . . and about the God who set it all in motion. She balked when the book was labeled as “American nature writing,” and would rather the reader think of it as a “theological treatise.” [I am a nut for this type of writing—gets me thinking in ways my left brain won’t allow!]
Chapter 2 is entitled “Seeing.” The narrator, Annie, trains herself to see and observe the ordinary—those events that people miss because they are too small or ignore because they are in a hurry. The entire chapter is a treasure trove of her discoveries. Unbeknown to Annie, she is training me how to notice the ordinary. Annie writes:
I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see,
unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and
strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But – and
this is the point – who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow
one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous
ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a
muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip
of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty when a
man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a,,
penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so
that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the
world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty
bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. ” (p.15)
I confess to the dire poverty of not stooping to pick up a “penny”— not noticing or dismissing the absolute exquisiteness of small things. Slowly I am learning to receive them as holy distractions. Holy distractions are opportunities to place aside my agenda [as important and urgent as it is!] and receive the gracious gift of “seeing.” Here are a few that I have come to cherish: a “care-worn” face, sunsets, crunching autumn leaves, the tenderness of Jesus, my kids uniqueness, enduring friendships, the taste of ice-cold tea and the sound of cicadas in summertime. All these and more have helped me to cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity as Annie talks about.
God speaks radically about smallness and small things. Recently reading in the book of Zechariah, I found another chip of copper. A small verse–one I have easily passed by many times. Zechariah asks “For who has despised the day of small things? (4.10) I love, love his question. It’s as though Zechariah and Annie Dillard had been discussing copper pennies over a mocha latte. God’s people had been asking “who gets excited about small things?” Before Babylon wiped out Judah, they had everything – a King, large armies, the majesty of Solomon’s temple, sacrifices, their own land—they even governed themselves. All that now erased, God asked Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah to build a new temple. This temple would be smaller. The people balked and then Zechariah asked his compelling question.
Do you find yourself overlooking ‘small things’ these days? Do you find the distraction inconvenient or dismiss it altogether? Or the exact opposite, are you seeing a path strewn with pennies—-holy distractions? What is the chip of copper, the “holy distraction” that the Lord Jesus has been winsomely pointing out to you lately? I am interested in what you see and experience . . . a special quote, words from a hymn, sights or sounds, unexpected conversations . . .
(You Tube video original, music by Thomas Newman, “Grace)