Dot writes: In her wonderful book Findings Kathleen Jamie has a chapter about her husband’s serious illness. She’s a stern Scottish secularist and even in his extremity, she doesn’t pray. But she notices.
Could I explain to Phil that – though there was a time, maybe 24 hours, when I genuinely believed his life to be in danger – I had not prayed? But I had noticed, more than noticed, the cobwebs, and the shoaling light and the way the doctor listened, and the flecked tweed of her skirt, and the speckled bird and the sickle-cell man’s slim feet. Isn’t that a kind of prayer? The care and maintenance of the web of our noticing, the paying heed?
– Findings, (London: Sort Of Books, 2005), p. 109
I was thinking about this passage (secularism and all) during the sermon on Sunday, when the rector was talking about Creation and asking us if we knew what the current phase of the moon was? Did we know what kind of trees grew in our street? Could we visualise their leaves or their bark? Because it was this kind of noticing that was needed, if we were to care for the world and not just use it. It was a pretty fierce environmentalist sermon. I felt a little ashamed because I don’t know the names of the trees or the current phase of the moon; I’ve been hurrying along with my collar up and my head down, from door to station and station to door, to indoors. Though I conceive of myself as someone who loves to be out under the sky.
I’m not good at the names of things sometimes – names of trees, anyway. My head refuses to hold them, though it’s fine with strong verbs. I do look, though. I could picture the leaves. I was wondering about how much we use language as the tool of our noticing. For me this is indeed important, and I want to focus on things by talking about them – talking about literature, which I do pretty well, and talking about music, which I do a lot less well but as well as I can manage. (I’m best at noticing human things.) Talking, however, is sometimes a way of interposing a layer of yourself and your interpretation between yourself and the thing, so that your lovely verbal image subtly takes over as the object of your pleasure. I don’t think that’s what Kathleen Jamie does – or rather, her precise noticing becomes a way for others to notice too. But the ideal, the noticing that’s like prayer, is to stay receptive, not to impose. To find the right word and no more, and if there is no word, to hear and feel and look. I’m not sure I’d call it prayer, though. I think I’d call it love.