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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sensitivity: The Art of the Small

Is sensitivity a cross or a gift? Sometimes we think of sensitivity as a cross we bear. We reason, “If I weren’t so sensitive, I wouldn’t feel all this pain—not only my own pain, but the pain of others.” Yet, we also know that sensitivity can be a great gift. The sensitive person is often a more caring and compassionate person.

What is sensitivity—as we are using it here? Simply stated, sensitivity is the quality that makes us delicately aware of the attitudes and feelings of ourselves and others. The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That presupposes an awareness of our own needs so that we may “do unto others” what we ourselves need and desire.

There are certain advantages to being a sensitive person. It means we notice details that others may miss: a lovely sunset, a perfectly baked chocolate cake, an unassuming person’s generosity. It also means we read people well. We notice, for example, when someone is sad, embarrassed, happy, or angry. We’re good at picking up the “vibes” of a group which enables us to work well with others. Writer Cati Vanden Bruel says that another advantage of sensitivity “is finding wonder in the smallest things”: the giggling of a child, the subtle scent of honeysuckle in the breeze, the comforting presence of a loved one sitting near us, a small personal achievement.

Where is sensitivity found in the Bible? From the opening pages of Genesis, our Heavenly Creator is shown as a sensitive person. As God creates the cosmos, Genesis tells us that, after every day of creation, God “saw that it was good.” In other words, God was sensitive to the beauty and wonder of all created things. After God creates Adam, God is sensitive to Adam’s loneliness and creates Eve, a suitable partner for him. In the book of Exodus, God is shown as being sensitive to the anguish of the Israelites in Egypt: “I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt… I am aware of their sufferings” (Ex. 3:7). God takes action by appointing Moses to lead the people out of their bondage. Sensitivity often arouses concrete action to alleviate the suffering of others.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as a highly sensitive person. He worked his first miracle at a wedding reception, for example, because he was sensitive to his mother’s request. Mary too was sensitive to the young couples’ possible embarrassment if the wine ran out (Jn. 2:1-11). While being mobbed by a crowd, Jesus was sensitive to the tassel-touching of the woman with the hemorrhage (Lk. 8:43-38). And of all the individuals standing outside the temple treasury, watching the people depositing their offerings, only Jesus seemed to notice the poor widow with her two small coins, and (what’s even more remarkable) was able to instantly realize her amazing generosity (Mk. 12:41-44).

Writer Ted Zeff states, “The highly sensitive person has an important mission, which is to serve as a balance for some (insensitive individuals) who advocate a less than nurturing policy toward humans, animals, and Mother Nature.” If we are bothered by arrogant, cruel, heartless individuals, then we can respond by gracing our little corner of the world with a little of our own sensitivity. Carlos Valles, SJ, calls sensitivity “the art of the small.” Our sensitivity need not be expressed in wide, sweeping movements, but in simple little gestures: the attentive look, the kind interpretation, a smile, a “thank you,” the small token, the simple touch.

We never need apologize or feel bad for being sensitive. For Jesus himself was master of this “art of the small.”

For reflection:

Who or what helped you to grow in sensitivity?

Can you think of any other places in the Gospels where Jesus displays his sensitivity?

Think of a few times that you appreciated someone else’s sensitivity in a particular situation. How was this sensitivity expressed? What effect did this sensitivity have on the situation and the people involved?

PS: The past few weeks I have been picking up a number of new subscribers to my blog. But some of you may not actually receive my blog on Monday. The IT department and I are in the process of upgrading my blog and the blogs of the other SND sisters. Until this process is finished, you might have to search “Melannie Svoboda Sunflower Seeds” to get my blog each each week. I apologize for this inconvenience. Hopefully we will have the subscriptions up to date and running soon.

Our video today “The Little Things” and it’s sung by ForeverBeSure. The visuals elicited a vivid childhood memory for me: As a little girl, I played for hours and hours with my vast collection of doll furniture. Sometimes I played along with my girlfriends. And sometimes I played alone, composing plays in my head with the little plastic figures who lived in my imaginary little world. This delightful little song has a big spiritual message: Sometimes God loves us in the little things of daily life.

Please feel free to write a comment below to anything in today’s blog: words, pictures, reflective questions, video! Our readers LOVE to read the comments!

8 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie,

    Everyone’s favorite poet, Mary Oliver, is always writing about paying attention to the “little things.” For instance, the speaker of arguably her most read poem, “A Summer Day,” watches with a meticulous eye the small habits of a grasshopper that had landed in her hand. She goes on to imply such sensitivity is in fact an act of prayer.

    And then there are those people who always give the perfect gift. They are truly sensitive to our needs, and we love them for it.

    There was this one time, though, in the horrendous winter of 2015 (in Massachusetts), when for four weekends in a row we were beset by these monster blizzards. I don’t know what blizzard we were on at the time, but it was night time, and the whole neighborhood was shoveling out their driveways. My neighbor’s driveway is separated from mine by a narrow strip of grass, at the time a landing area for the shoveled snow, and just when we were all on the brink of exhaustion, neighbor Lauren, knowing we needed a pick-me-up, pops her head out the door and asks, “Who wants a brownie fresh out of the oven?”

    Jesus says the Kingdom of God can be found is small, sensitive acts of kindness, and in this case the Kingdom of God was delicious!

    1. Dear John, Mary Oliver’s “A Summer Day” is certainly one of her most beloved poems. Thanks for referring to it! And your story about the brownies is a perfect example of a small, sensitive act of kindness. Thanks for responding, John! Melannie

  2. I sometimes refer to myself as being a mood ring, feeling the feels of those around me. Thank you for sharing this beautiful reflection on sensitivity, recognizing the gift that it can be. And observing the ways that Jesus was sensitive…so beautiful. I love the Mary Oliver example as well. Today I will look for ways to share those “simple little gestures” and appreciate the little things.

  3. Dear Sr. Melannie, my apologies for writing this in your Comments section but unfortunately i am not receiving your weekly newsletters by email. I have registered and so it won’t allow me to register again. Please add me to the ‘problem’ list as i would love to receive your weekly newsletters again. Kind regards, Arianna (Johannesburg, South Africa)

    1. Dear Arianna, Our tech people are working to update my blog. I have too many subscribers for the current system to support. Hopefully, the updating will solve this problem and you will be receiving my blog in your email. Meanwhile, you’ll have to search Melannie Svoboda Sunflower Seeds to read my blog each week. I’m sorry for the inconvenience…. Thanks for writing. Melannie

  4. Dear Sr. Melannie
    Sometimes being sensitive causes me to despair with all the hurt in this world. But the Holy Spirit directed me to your sweet blog thru a reflection in “Give Us This Day” and my spirit is refreshed! I find joy in the little things and am encouraged to bring as much joy and love to others in lovingly doing little things throughout my day!! Thank you all. The brownies the neighbor baked was exactly the right example to accompany the “little things” song. Thank you for the encouragement!

  5. Sr.Melanie I’m subscribed and have been for years. Don’t know why but I have not received your posting for months and every time I try to re-subscribe I’m told I’m already subscribe, but I’m still not getting anything.

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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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