Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Susan Baller Shepard on Taking Notice

I’ve been very nearsighted since I was four years old. For me, without glasses or contacts, the world is awash with color but not distinct shapes. One color blends into the next without distinction. One of the words used in the Holy Bible for “noticing” is to “fix your eyes upon.”

In a modern context, to fix our eyes upon something does not necessarily mean we “see” it. We are inundated with so much stimuli every day, life moves so quickly in the developed world, that we can miss much of what is and who are in our very midst.

To be dismissed is to be unseen, unheard, unnoticed.

When I worked as a social worker in child welfare, we were concerned with children who had been abused and neglected. Children who had been neglected often faced a harder road ahead because their very existence had gone unnoticed by those who were supposed to provide them care and protection. This meant that the neglect they’d endured created existential angst in even the smallest of children. In orphanages, this neglect results in children no longer crying when they need something.  A process of detachment begins when each cry results in no response to the child’s needs, no attention. A part of the soul begins to come unhinged when it does not receive the care it deserves, the interaction that makes us human.

I’ve thought about this with the recent separation of children from their parents in Texas and other border locations. I’ve thought about how wrong this is in the eyes of God, and how wrong it is in terms of child welfare. It’s wreckless to separate children from those who provide care. The damage done cannot be readily seen, the harm can last a great while.

How and who we dismiss provides an area of spiritual growth for us. Is there someone you dismiss from the Reign of God? Whose existence is unseen by us?

Or, maybe you’ve felt dismissed?  Where was it? When was it?

In this #MeToo era, we hear stories of claims of abuse that went dismissed, claims of harm that heralded no attention.

In a haunting documentary on PBS Frontline, “Trafficked in America,” Trillium Farm buildings in Ohio and Iowa were there on the landscape, and people assumed they were operating a legitimate egg production businesses. Trillium Farms instead were sites for human trafficking, which then came under federal investigation for the human trafficking ring. Among the disturbing elements of the documentary was the fact that Guatemalan teenagers were being trafficked right under the noses of a community. On a recent flight, I read an article about suspicious behavior and what to do if you suspect a person on a flight is being trafficked. I was surprised and grateful to see it.

May Sarton, a poet and writer, in her journals said that she would draw things, not because she was a great artist. She admitted she wasn’t, but she would draw things because she said it helped her to notice whatever she drew. If she took the time to draw something, she had to really see it.

Today, when news comes at us fast and furiously, when we seek to be wise in the midst of the news stream, to hold on to peace amidst stories that make us anxious, now more than ever a deep sense of God, and God’s faithfulness is needed.

As people on a spiritual path, we can take notice of those left out of conversations. We can take notice of those left on margins. We can take notice of the powerless.We can hold God’s peace and not give in to narratives of anxiety.

“When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will notice it and remember the perpetual covenant between God and all living creatures of all kinds that are on the earth."  —Genesis 9:6 

"And behold, I am with you and will keep (watch over you with care, take notice of) you wherever you may go, and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done all of which I have told you.”—Genesis 9:16

She bowed with her face to the ground and said to him, "Why are you so kind to notice me, although I am a foreigner?"—Ruth 2:10

But you take notice, Lord! O Lord, do not remain far away from me!—Psalm 35:22

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"?—Isaiah 40:27

Are not two little sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's leave (consent) and notice.—Matthew 10:29

Greek Word Study: Katanoeo: to perceive, remark, observe, understand;  to consider attentively, fix one's eyes or mind upon

Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard is a co-founder and editor of Spiritual Book Club with its blog "Real People, Real Lives, Real Spirituality" with over 200 interviews from around the world. Susan blogs for the Huffington Post religion section and is author of Matching Yu. She teaches religion at Heartland Community College in central Illinois, where she lives with her family.

1. When or where have you felt dismissed or unseen within the last year?

2.Sometimes what we do not see is our own shadow side. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye but don't notice the log in your own eye? in Matthew 7:3. Has there been a time when you’ve come to realize what you did not notice before in yourself?  Some people call this a “come to Jesus” moment.

3. Can you think of a person in your midst who needs attention? Who needs to know you see her or him?

4. Is there a social action you are taking to help someone who is unseen or unnoticed in your communities?

5. When do you feel most “seen” by God? Has there been a time in your life in which you felt that God was attentive to you? How did that feel? Did anything change?

Thank you for sharing your reflections here.




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