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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Stay Awake: A Hallmark of Christian Spirituality

Several years ago, a priest friend and I were discussing this question: What are some of the hallmarks of a genuine Christian spirituality. Almost immediately, he gave me one. “Stay awake!” he said. We went on to have a great conversation about this hallmark. In this reflection I will share why this injunction “Stay awake!” is so important for our Christian Spirituality. And I will do this by weaving together the wise words of a variety of philosophers, spiritual writers, and poets.

Jesus invites us to the fullness of life every day. Unfortunately, many of us slumber, not fully awake to the offer. We just don’t pay attention to what is happening around us and inside of us each day. The spiritual writer Alice Camille says some of us “spend many waking hours like sleepwalkers, moving through routines with eyes closed to the possibilities for greater, deeper life being held out in every moment.”

I am reminded of a character in the movie Postcards from the Edge who sends a postcard home from vacation with these words scribbled on it: “Having a wonderful time. Wish I were here.” The sad truth is we can sleepwalk through not only our ordinary days, but even through our vacations! The basic question to ask ourselves is this: What do I pay attention to on any given day? The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote, “Tell me what you pay attention to, and I will tell you who you are.”

Father Anthony de Mello, SJ, tells this little story that also points to the importance of taking stock of what gets our attention and what does not. A wife was sitting across the breakfast table from her husband whose face was buried in the newspaper. She asks him, “Has it ever occurred to you that there might be more to life than what’s going on in the world?” The sad truth is, sometimes we know more about what’s going on in far away places than we know about what’s going on in our own house! Or we
pay more attention to that famous celebrity than we do to our spouse, our child, our coworker, our friend.

St. Ignatius formulated a practice to counteract our tendency to sleepwalk through life. He called it, the examen. He encouraged his followers to take time each day, often at the end of the day, to reflect on what really happened that day. I sometimes use a couple of questions such as these: What were the highlights of today? What were the lowlights? What did I respond to well? What could I have done better? When did I feel close to God? When far away? Did I help anyone today? Did anyone help me? What am I most grateful for today? What or whom do I want to pray for today?

More than one spiritual writer has said that people often think the basic command of religion is “Do this!” or “Don’t do this!” But in reality, they argue, the basic command of religion is “Look!… Behold!… Wonder!” Didn’t Jesus himself call his disciples to pay attention to flowers, birds, and the needs of the poor? If we truly stay awake to our everyday, Sam Keen says, we might encounter Divinity. He says, “Epiphanies are as common as forget-me-nots. The eternal is curled up in the heart of the here and now.”

(all photos from Pixabay)

And finally, let’s listen to the wise words of the poet Mary Oliver: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Or, in my words, “To stay awake, this is our endless challenge and proper work that can lead us to a deeper, happier, and more meaningful spiritual life!”

For reflection:

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being VERY attentive), how attentive are you to what is really happening in your daily life?

What helps you to ‘stay awake’ to the here and now?

Do you ever practice St. Ignatius’ ‘examen’?

Can you think of any other hallmarks of Christian spirituality?

I chose a beautiful choral Lenten hymn for today. It’s called “God So Loved the World” by John Stainer. It’s the first hymn on this video.

I invite you to add a comment below. We all love hearing from our readers!

14 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…

    Well, I have good days and bad days regarding just how awake I am to the wonder of God’s creation. Here’s a story. Once, in the dead of winter, maybe January, I was at my desk up in the loft where our daughter’s room used to be. It was dark and cold outside and all that lit the room was a gooseneck lamp that shone over the desk. I’m not sure what I was doing — maybe writing a letter? — but out of nowhere a marmorated stink bug landed right by my pen. Where did this little fella come from? It just sat there, perhaps warming itself in the glow of the lamp. I continued writing and it just stayed, as if observing every pen stroke. But here’s the thing: As I recall, it paid me a visit two or three nights in a row! And then it was gone. I don’t know where it went, but I missed that little guy of God’s creation!

    1. John, I enjoyed your brief reflection on your little friend, the marmorated stink bug. (I’m impressed that you knew what kind of stink bug it was!) You piqued my curiosity, so I did some “research” (7 minutes worth) and learned: stink bugs are NOT native to this country. They’re Asian, and probably hooked a ride on a boat to get here in the late 1990s. They are very attracted to light and warmth–hence, the bug showing up under your lamp. They don’t hurt humans, but they alert other stink bugs to come join them (by releasing pheromones) when they’ve found a comfy house to live! So, beware… Thanks for responding to my blog, John! Melannie

  2. Good morning,
    This morning as I read your wonderful reminder call to stay awake and be aware, I recall reading, possibly from Brother Lawrence, how our most significant spent moments are times that are usually considered a waste of time, like doodling, fishing, pondering, daydreaming, etc. The wisdom writer went on to explain the reason being that it is in these “wasting-of-time” moments that we are most awake and most aware.
    God bless you, Sister Melannie and your readers. Joanne

  3. Joanne, It’s nice to hear from you again too! Your comment made me wonder: what important contributions to humanity are a result of someone “pondering, daydreaming, wasting their time.” I thought of one immediately: Velcro! It was invented by a Swiss electrical engineer George De Mestral who liked to hike in the Alps. He began to wonder why burdock seeds always stuck to his woolen socks, his coat, and even his dog Milka. He examined them carefully and Eureka! Velcro was born! I’m sure there are thousands of more monumental contributions, but this was the first one I thought of. Thanks, Joanne, for your comment! (READERS: A couple of weeks ago I met Joanne in the produce section of our local Giant Eagle. I never know when I will actually run into a sunflower reader. It’s always a delight for me!) Melannie

  4. I think one is also more awake when you have a big event, or maybe an atypical event, in your life. My husband just had surgery (total knee). I haven’t had any great epiphanies. More a sense of being awake and grateful for many things – accessible health care, the two of us for one another and simple daily blessings (oooh the sunshine!!)
    Thank you for this reflection, Sr. M., and thoughts on how to be more attentive in our daily lives!

  5. Amy, Thank you for reminding us that often an “atypical” event can make us more awake. Your example is a good one! And being grateful, I think, is one of the best signs that you are awake to your life! Like I’ve said before, gratitude is a clear indication that you are close to God! Thanks for writing, Amy! Melannie

    1. I just had a happy surprise. As I was reading everyone’s reflections and saw Amy H, I wondered if that could be my sister. We’ll it just so happens that I also have a brother-in-law who just had knee surgery! So there is my answer! I usually try to read your blog on Monday mornings before I go to work. But I have Spring break this week so I’m reading it a day late, which, to my delight allowed me to see my sister’s reflection!I

      I have been blessed with a career in Early Childhood Education. For the last 10 years I have been teaching at a nature-based preschool in Milwaukee where we spend our days outdoors. We learn not only about nature but also through and with nature. One of the many gifts of my work is staying awake to the children’s discoveries and wonderings. When I get distracted by the responsibilities of the day, the children are always there to remind me of what is most important…and currently that is the wonder and joy of mud!

      Thank you Sr Melannie, for your invitation and reminder to stay awake!

      1. Lisa, How nice that your recognized your sister’s comment! A “nature-based preschool” sounds really fascinating! And I like that your students learn not only ABOUT nature, but also THROUGH and WITH nature… And speaking of mud, in my book “When the Moon Slips Away,” I have a whole chapter devoted to mud! I’d fit right in to your class! And here’s a quote I return to time and time again: “If you really want to see the world, go for a walk with a child.”… Blessings on your work (and play) with your little ones! And Thanks for writing, Lisa! Melannie

  6. I love this reflection! So often we hear “the important thing is: to show up” What good is showing up if you’re half asleep or not paying attention to that which you are “showing up”. I so enjoy the examples in this meditation!
    The Examen (which I try to set time aside at the noon hour for a self-check helps pull me back to slow down a bit. Then it’s off to the races again! Lol! I know God’s love is all around us; “showing up” in many instances, sometimes unnoticed, till later on. This gives me great opportunities to see where best I’m needed and follow-through to completion. Not all the time, but I am trying!
    Thank you once again for this wonder-filled reflection!!
    Next time I see a stink-bug John, I will be kind to it!

  7. Nancy, There is much wisdom in your words. Pausing in the middle of the day can be beneficial too-as you point out: “it helps pull me back to slow down a bit.” And I liked your saying that God’s love is “all around us,” but sometimes it “goes unnoticed, till later on.” That resonates with my experience too. So thanks, Nancy, for sharing your lived experienced with us! Melannie

  8. I enjoy your blog and received it for a while. For some reason it stopped coming. I’d like to get it again.

    1. Mary Therese, We are still having problems with this blog. There’s a problem with sections–including the subscription mechanism. Many readers are NOT receiving my blog. I met with the IT people here and they are seeking help from the company that set up our blogs. I apologize for the inconvenience. Until the problem is resolved, you probably have to search for my blog each week. Perhaps you can bookmark it too for easier access. Thank you and all my readers for your patience. I don’t want to lose any readers! Melannie

    2. Sr. Mary Therese DeMoor, C.P.P.S.’s note resonates with my experience of having enjoyed your blog, Sr. Melanie except mine was for a long while and suddenly stopped as well.

      In fact after reading several of your blogs this late night, I realized how much I miss receiving them.
      I saw a space for signing up & when I did so, it indicated I couldn’t submit it as my name and address are already on file. Hoping I will begin receiving them again soon as well as Sr. Therese.

      Thank you!

  9. This winter I retired and moved from people and ministry I’ve appreciated for decades. Being able to “staying awake” through the process of clearing an office and residence and “letting go, letting come” took discipline and I was quite occupied. The changes were exhausting yet filled with gratitude and enthusiasm for my new life and its adventures with my sisters at our motherhouse complex. We listen to the divine message: ” See, I am doing something new!”

    Through these months your help was missing, Sr. Melannie, and I too tried to re-subscribe. Tonight I feel joyous about finding this one offering of “Sunflower Seeds”. May the IT
    folks get the bugs [not the ones from Asia] out of the system so we again can benefit
    from your sharing. Blessings on you and all your readers. Thank you for all you give to us.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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