Mary Oliver on ‘Attention’

Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

Mary Oliver, Upstream

I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and now am coming to love her prose as I read her book of essays Upstream.  In these two sentences from the first chapter, she seems to focus on at least part of the antidote for the problem posed by the quote from Thomas Merton last week.

  • I think what we pay attention to is what seems most important to us at any given moment.  What do we find ourselves paying attention to and what does that tell us about the things we value most?
  • How do we cope with keeping ourselves focused? How do we avoid constant distraction?
  • Are we as perceptive as Mary Oliver, knowing something is wrong when our attention strays from eternity?
  • Write down the things that you pay attention to. Which ones are ‘keepers’, things you definitely want to keep front and center? Which are definitely distractions? Are there some that are in between? What are they?

Grace and peace to you…


Photo by dw

One reply on “Mary Oliver on ‘Attention’”

I would say that I want my attention focused on eternity much of the time, but not all of the time. There are more prosaic things that demand my attention from time to time–I do want the bills to be paid and my work to be done properly, for example. Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God at all times, but I seem to do no better than switching my attention back and forth from the temporal to the eternal.

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