I spent some time this week with a smart, provocative book by David Dark. It’s called life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious.
Dark is an unlikely prophet for yours truly – an evangelical former English teacher turned theology professor in Nashville. But since he teaches college-aged seekers as I do, I was interested in his take on things.
If you like being challenged to consider the autopilot mode that keeps sending you back to your church, or the Starbuck’s on the way to work, or the Internet – that self-satisfied voice that keeps telling you you have it all together – this is a book for you.
His best wake-up call is one I want to give a shout-out to here.
Dark tells us that we all need an Attention Collection.
I love this. It makes me think of the little figurines my grandmother gathered when she had a few extra pennies. The quarters from every state my son once painstakingly collected (he never quite got to all 50).
Dark says that we need to see what we see.
Easier said than done.
We need to pay better attention than we do just hurrying through our daily lists and hop to the addictive techno-twitches that offer instant gratification and long-term emptiness.
We need to notice the hawk on the bough, remember the inspiring poem we heard on the radio, the look in the eyes of the 10 year olds along for a college tour with the sibling they would too soon have to say goodbye to. What we truly attend to seeps into our beings and forms the mind and soul that we are.
As a lifelong keeper of writer’s notebooks, a hoarder of overheard conversations, lines written on the back of receipts, I can’t say enough about this concept.
Dark writes, We have an obligation “to make sure you’re still taking on this business of being awake to yourself – to be a witness to your own experience, to listen to your own life, to see what you’ve seen…What could be more socially essential, more sacred?”
Once we begin to see the sacredness of the smallest particular (Blake’s great cri du coeur), we start to have a better sense of how good work gets done. (As opposed to a lot of the work we actually do, by the way.)
Attention is a miracle. It is the gift we are given, first, to see what we see, and then to share it. We get to sift through our grab bag of impressions and insights each and every day, and decide which items are worth passing along. In the process, we get smarter and better about what we don’t need to erode our precious, miraculous attention on. A major fringe benefit.
Sharing our “attention collection” is the ultimate act of collaboration with the great project of consciousness. We give little gifts of goodness, value, hope by sharing what we have been fed by. Daily bread.
I’m seeing what I see much more vividly, thank to Dark.
“The surest evidence of what we believe is what we do,” Dark writes.