I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Ally Markotich's reflection, "Noticing as a Gateway to the Divine."
The rhythm of the day doesn't escape me. Kylo won't let it. He, our family's zesty yellow lab, follows me close as I blearily pour my coffee. He pants as I slowly sip. He hopefully looks as I open my closet doors waiting for me to grab… Will she?… Won't she? Sneakers! Yes! His awkward dance of whimper, whine and skip nearly trips me as I clip his leash upon his neck.
At age one, this excitable rescue came into our family's life. When he arrived, I never imagined how he'd keep me on a strict daily walking routine. Over the last two years, he's made his persistent morning case for exercise; he cannot be denied. In the beginning, I resisted. Then, I begrudgingly gave in. But, walking him became one more chore to be crossed off the daily agenda. I set off through the neighborhood, traveling the same route, looking at the same houses, passing the same trees. My mission was sadly singular: to arrive back home to get to the next task on the list. The one highlight was a local manmade lake. Or, so I thought.
Months went by, and during this time, seeds of practice were being dropped in my life. Christine's words of walking as a spiritual practice crossed my path. This paired up nicely with insights I received in Spiritual Formation classes. My vantage point began to change. I started to leave my home each morning prayerfully with anticipation. What would come into focus this day? What would grab my attention? What beauty would gift itself to my eyes? Slowly, my vision shifted. I began to notice. The ordinary turned to extraordinary. The mundane transformed to sacred. I spotted beauty in pollen. I detected a face in a tree and laughed out loud. Ribbons of pink clouds overhead became God's personal present for me. My awareness let me shift course easily if another dog came into view. No longer was I stubborn about "my walking path," but could easily turn around if need be. I was now walking a daily adventure.
Turkey vultures regularly flew overhead. These dark, ominous birds lurked on powerlines and gathered in trees. They sent shivers down my spine. One day, I stopped in amazement and counted. Over thirty-five were in one tree. I wondered if this was a sacred symbol for my life. I decided to learn more about the vulture. After a quick search on the Internet, I found that vultures are incredibly resourceful. They aren't predators, but only eat what they find. They are able to eat death and decay but don't harness it in their bodies. In fact, their urine is a cleanser to kill bacteria from their feet. They also use heat from the sun to kill off toxins on their wings. I opened my heart to vultures as a gift and now, am able to give great thanks for their provision in the cycle of life. Learning from their way continuously has me asking, "How can I be more resourceful with what I have?"
The act of noticing on walks has become a powerful tool for the writing and art I create. When I am fully present with the act of walking, words for a poem will stream into my consciousness. Or, an idea will happily hop into my heart. I find shapes, color and shadow delight me with their whimsy giving me fuel for painting. Regularly dwelling with repeated sights and sounds of my neighborhood led me to consider how people on the opposite side of the world may feel a similar way to their common surroundings. I came home and wrote this poem, entitled Gazing:
Could it be
the flowers you find
are foreign to me?
Could it be
the flowers I find
are foreign to you?
Could it be
if we came together
to gently gaze upon
each other's flowers,
our familiar worlds
would fuse and
unfurl into a garden
Embarking on a path to notice what is in my midst has changed my life. Nowadays, this practice comes with me beyond my morning walks. I find intentionality is key. I must take care to notice; she is rather sensitive and easy to shut down. Noticing follows me to the grocery store and stands next to me with my children. She gingerly points out needs in my midst, but I'm not always brave enough to follow through. Yet, when I lean into her, noticing becomes a gateway to the divine, a light for my path, the burning bush at my feet. I'll never forget where I found her. On a simple, ordinary walk with a happy yellow lab. For this, I am forever grateful.
Ally Markotich is passionate about the meeting place of creativity and faith. Currently, she explores this connection through poetry, soul art and kinesthetic small group experiences. Ally recently completed a certificate in Spiritual Formation from Columbia Theological Seminary in GA. You can find more of her work at www.creativesoulkindling.com