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Jun 25th, The Life Changing Magic of Paying Attention, with Becca Ellis

Posted: Sun, Jun 25, 2023
Summary: What is sacred to you? 0:00 Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, and author. What is sacred in your life. The burning bush in the desert. 1:04 Moses encounters a burning bush in Exodus. Moses immediately obeys the voice of god. Where does god’s presence exist? 2:45 The psalmist, god’s presence, and how to experience [...]

A Part of the Series:

Becca Ellis


What is sacred to you? 0:00
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, and author.
What is sacred in your life.

The burning bush in the desert. 1:04
Moses encounters a burning bush in Exodus.
Moses immediately obeys the voice of god.

Where does god’s presence exist? 2:45
The psalmist, god’s presence, and how to experience it.
Days after Jesus’ death.

How we miss out on the sacred. 4:25
We all have the same diagnosis, the human condition.
Andrea Gibson, poet, and author.

The only thing we have control over. 6:14
The only thing we have control over is where we put our attention.
The Kondo method.

The problem of measurability. 7:54
The problem of measurability in quantum physics.
What we pay attention to matters.

How to find the sacred in the ordinary. 9:13
How to find the sacred in the ordinary.
How to live the human condition.

Good and bad in the world. 10:59
The world is aching, there are wounds everywhere.
Andrea Gibson, good and bad people.

Paying attention to the sacred. 12:36
Simple human observation and how it changes us.
Barbara Brown Taylor, sacred.


In her book and altering the world Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown, Taylor writes, whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it. When was the last time you notice something that felt holy or sacred? Now first, you might immediately think of religious spaces, right we call a church sanctuary or a cathedral sacred, we might call a vigil or service or prayer sacred. We have sacred texts and sacred stories and sacred songs. We have the bread and the wine, ordinary things made sacred. I like to call my cup of coffee in the morning before my kids wake up sacred. I wonder what is sacred in your life. I have a feeling that we might say some of the same things in some different things too. And we would both be right, I want to briefly share two stories we find in the Bible, where individuals seem to stumble upon a holy or sacred space. The first one is fairly well known. We find it in Exodus when Moses encounters a burning bush in the desert. Now, the Cliff Notes on Moses, he was a Hebrew who was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter in Egypt in one day, as an adult, he comes across an Egyptian worker beating a Hebrew slave, he intervenes, murdering the Egyptian. So he hightailed it out of there, he flees to the desert where he ends up marrying a Midianite woman, and settling down into a fairly ordinary life as a shepherd. Now, by the time this whole burning bush ordeal happens, he’s lived here in the desert for another 40 years, spending his time tending to sheep roaming the land. At this point, he knows the terrain well, and I find it hard to imagine that much surprises him about it. But one day, he encounters this burning bush. And it’s interesting in the story, Moses doesn’t seem as concerned about the fact that the Bush is burning, his attention is piqued because the bush is not being consumed by the blaze. But more interesting to me is that he stops, and he pays attention. And in that space, he hears a voice, a voice that says, take off your sandals for you’re standing on holy ground, a voice that tells Moses, God, the presence of love is in his mixed, Moses immediately obeys. And the question I asked when I read this is, was there something inherently special or holy about that specific patch of ground? Did it have anything to do with the burning bush? Or? Or was it the presence of God in that place at that time, that somehow made that space holy, sacred? And where does God’s presence exist? And how do we experience that? I think of the psalmist, who seemed to feel that God’s presence was inescapable writing, where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens, you were there, if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. And if God is everywhere, then is not all ground holy. The next story I want to share it takes place just days after Jesus death. There are two men followers of Jesus who are traveling the road from Jerusalem to amaze. And they’re talking about all the events that have taken taken place over the past several days about Jesus death. And now his suppose it resurrection when a fellow traveler on the road overhears their discussion and joins them saying, What are you talking about what is all this that you’re saying has happened? Now we know from the text that this man was actually Jesus playing down and these two men didn’t seem to recognize him. Not until they make it to their destination and extend hospitality to the man asking him to join them for a meal. Up to this point, it was just an ordinary walk in ordinary conversation, an ordinary gesture of hospitality, and they’re about to share an ordinary meal. But when they see Jesus break the bread, which is something his followers saw him do often. Then they suddenly realized who they had been with the whole time. All of a sudden, it all becomes so sacred. But the road they were walking on was already sacred the whole time Jesus was already in their midst. They just weren’t aware. I wonder about that. I wonder about the ways in which we distracted ironically, by the very things of life, miss out on the holy and sacred right in front of us. Lately, I’ve been finding myself unintentionally reading and learning from authors who are dying. They all seem to have been diagnosed with various terminal illnesses at Best If Used By Date place today only on their lives. And you know, as I say that out loud. I realized we all really have the same diagnosis. The Human Condition there’s there’s a final breath in store for all of us one day, but it seems like Those who are given a sentence of X amount of weeks or months or years, those who really feel the struggle of being alive, fully alive, they have a wisdom and understanding that, on the one hand, I don’t want to be prescribed yet. I can’t help but think how ironic it is that those who seem to understand the sacredness of life the most, perhaps, especially in the ordinary things that you and I take for granted every day, they’re the ones who fully acknowledge what it might mean, to die. So one of these authors I’ve recently listened to on a podcast, we can do hard things is poet Andrea Gibson, and, and if you haven’t listened to their work, or shared it with the young people in your lives, go and do that immediately, please, this is your spiritual practice for the week. No, but but in this podcast, they have so many painfully beautiful things to say about their experience since their diagnosis, their wounds, how they saw God and in all how they understood who God might be at all. Gibson talks about the surprising healing that that they have encountered surprising because they’re going through something that there is no cure for chronic Lyme disease as well as ovarian cancer which, which recently, they’re experiencing a recurrence of things very much out of their control. But one of the things that that Gibson says that struck me was, the only thing we have control over in this life is where we put our attention. Where do you put your attention? What is sacred is God here are only up there, and what is this ground beneath our feet. And if God is present everywhere, then isn’t all ground holy, and aren’t you and I also animated dirt are we not made of the very same stuff? Maybe I remember my condos, book and later television show the life changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s this philosophy or method of curating your physical space to promote your well being to only own items that truly spark joy. And part of the process is that you physically pick up every item in your household, let’s say you’re going through clothing, and you don’t ask yourself if you need it, or you still use it, if you wear it, but you hold it, you feel it, you pay attention to it, and you pay attention to how it makes you feel and you ask yourself, Does this spark joy. And now I’m not going to say anything for or against this method. I think there is value in considering what we give physical, a physical place to in our lives. But the thing that I do appreciate about this method, Marie Kondo is asking us to enter into a practice of stopping and paying attention to the ordinary everyday things around us. And not only is she asking us to pay attention, but also considering what it is in our life that we truly value that we consider important, perhaps even what we would call sacred. Now, paying attention is interesting to me on a whole nother level that I promise I won’t nerd out on too much right now. But some of you are probably familiar with the problem of measurability as defined through the studies of quantum physics, right? I’ll only touch on this briefly because it is a rabbit hole. And really, no one has the answers, and I definitely don’t have them. But the basic idea is that through experiments studying the behavior of photons, scientists have discovered that mere observation seems to influence how matter behaves. It’s a strange phenomenon where the moment a photon is observed in a particular way that would actually show us what’s happening. It certainly acts in very different ways than when it’s not observed that way. And it just makes me think that even on this very micro molecular level, what we pay attention to matters, how we pay attention matters. This burning bush in our life, this dusty road, we’re walking this conversation with a stranger, the small, almost invisible ways, we each influence the world around us every day. And then I think, you know, when we look at the life of Jesus, this is another person we learn from who perhaps wasn’t diagnosed with a terminal illness, but has accepted the truth of his death. He knew his days were numbered. He understood something about the finitude of life, he had this human experience live the human condition like us, too. And what did he pay attention to? He paid attention to the people around him. He felt deeply moved with compassion, and he did something positive with that feeling.

He looked and notice the ones on the margins, he noticed the injustices. He took ordinary moments and made them sacred meal around a table, for instance, and he called out the religious for the things they like to put on pedestals and holy pillars pointed out the ways they were royally missing the point. So what does this have to do with us? What does it mean to find the sacred in the ordinary Can ourselves in the eyes of another in the packing of lunches and signing up permission slips and finding of missing socks in the quiet, lonely mornings and an empty house, in the day job and in the caretaking of those we love or perhaps even accepting caretaking from someone else. How can we walk through our days considering that, that perhaps even the very offering we give to the world creates holy ground? What if God isn’t just up on some mountaintop, or in some holy cathedral, we’re in a burning bush in the desert, but but right here, as we do the dishes and take out the trash or sit with our friend and grief or get up for the fourth or fifth time in the middle of the night to soothe a crying baby? What if we ourselves have the dirt inspired and animated breathing and living? Or of the theory? Same stuff? And how do we get this right? Because the world is aching. There are wounds everywhere. And sometimes it feels like too much to ask to pay attention to at all? Of course it is I don’t know that our nervous systems were meant for all the global pain that we’re exposed to on a day by day, sometimes minute by minute basis. But what about the here? And now what about the things we can control? What about where we put our attention? Going back to this conversation I listened to with Andrea Gibson. At one point they were asked what they think about good and bad in the world are there good and bad people and and they respond that they think when you see that person cursing out a cashier or inflicting pain on someone in some way, they don’t see a bad person. But they do see a wounded person and and how there is no stronger weapon than our wounds and the world is really, really good. Then they go on to say, the definition for myself for a long time is are you trying? Are you trying to be kind? Are you trying to be generous? Are you trying to make the world more beautiful? Are you trying to care for yourself and those around you? And I say trying? Because I have experiences of times in my life where I tried to be kind, but I couldn’t be anyone else. When we think about Moses, for instance, his holy patriarch of the Bible was Was he good or bad? He murdered someone he freed a whole lot of slaves. He made mistakes just like all of us. And he kept trying, it seems that maybe the question isn’t whether a person is is good or bad? Maybe it isn’t a question at all. Maybe it’s just that we’re all human. And that in and of itself is sacred. And the thing I find compelling about all of this, as I think about it is is not only a ways in which simple human observation, paying attention, noticing what is right where we are, seems to influence the world around us, even as suggested by quantum physics, but more so how it changes us. Because what we call sacred becomes just that in our eyes. I mean, we start bores over this stuff. But what does it do to me and to you to remember, not only is it sacred to sit amongst those we love and know, but also to find the sacred and the eyes of the person that we can barely stand to look at. What does it mean to remember that even when my wounds are bleeding out and obvious, I am still sacred hole? What does it mean to take each moment the only moment we are really promised and realize and the hard and the good and the effortless and the challenge in the highs and lows the deep despair and ecstatic joy in the brokenness and everything in between this life this human experience is sacred. Barbara brown Taylor writes, What a saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world. We are walking on holy ground friends, pay attention to the sacred ordinary and see how it changes the world around you. See how it changes you peace

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