The Spiritual Discipline of Attendance

This week's UPI column

So There I was...

Driving from my house, on a busy Monday morning. My “To Do” list was stacked like planes coming into O’Hare. My head was in air traffic control mode, oblivious to all but the blips on my personal radar.

I slowed to a not-quite-full-legal stop at the corner of My Street and Major Arterial. The bank was cleared for landing and the post-office was on final approach. Then that still small voice I have learned to listen to piped up with an urgent request.

“Peggy, could you please attend to the train coming into Grand Central Station on track number 4 ? – it’s coming in a little fast.”


I applied full brake and looked about. All seemed normal in the sleepy residential neighborhood. Then I saw her: the little choo-choo on track number 4. She was about 2 years old – maybe – riding a big wheel along Major Arterial. She was blonde, female – probably - and peddling along at good speed, about a block and a half away. With no adult anywhere in sight! I parked. She peddled towards me, crossed the next side street at below bumper height, and kept coming. She never looked sideways or back. I got out and met her on the sidewalk. She applied her Fred Flintstones and came to a stop at my toes.

“Hi baby”

She looked up at me and put her thumb in her mouth – not even two, I decided.

“Baby, where’s mommy?”

Tot unplugged thumb and looked over her shoulder.

“Let’s go find mommy, ok?”

“Otay” she chirped.

Executing a crisp three-point Big Wheel turn, Cindy Lou Who applied speed and proceeded in the direction of her origin. I followed at a brisk walking pace.

We went three full city blocks, crossing two side streets, this time with me as crossing guard, and then she made a right turn. I was about to call 911 when a door opened at the end of the block and a blonde woman popped out her head and called “Haley?”

I continued to Haley’s house. I informed mom of where I had contacted Haley. Mom thanked me and was about to start scolding Haley. As a card-carrying member and journeywoman of the International Union of Mothers, I felt the need to interrupt and make the lesson explicit.

“ I could have as easily picker her up and put her in my car.” I said gently
Mom looked a little stunned.

“It’s not Haley’s job to keep Haley safe” I said even more gently.
Mom scooped Haley up in her arms and nodded.

“Have a good day. Bye, Haley”

“Bye-Bye” chirped the tot

I returned to my car and to my radar.

This was not an unusual occurrence in my life. My children could tell you how young they were when they noticed that their mother seemed to be ‘on call’ to the universe. My therapist might tell you that I have rescuing tendencies. I prefer to say that I practice the Spiritual Discipline of Attendance. The Biblical Mandate for this is the story Jesus told about the guy in the ditch. Of course, it is more formally known as” The Story of the Guy who Helped the Guy in the Ditch.” - but you know the story. It’s all about looking off your own radar and showing up where you are needed when you are needed and then taking action.

Here are the requirements of the Spiritual Discipline of Attendance:

You must attend.
You must be able to be present and mindful; aware of your surroundings. You must be able to observe without seeking to simply fit what you observe into your ready made boxes.

You must attend at two levels.
You must be able to have one ear and eye on the world and one ear and eye on the Divine. You must be willing to take input from the Divine. This is what makes it a spiritual discipline and not merely paying attention – which is not a bad thing – but is different.

You must attend with the expectation of use.
You must show up for life willing to take action. You accept the fact that in any given situation you may be the person most capable of attendance.

You must attend without fear.
Sometimes all you have to offer is a non-anxious presence. Sometimes you may be called upon to be resilient in the face of actual threat. Fear kills love and a lot of other things.

You must attend with hope.
Ditch people can’t always dredge up their own. You must carry a supply of this at all times.

You must attend with Faith
(see above) Sometimes people have to be able to believe in you before they can believe in anything else. It takes courage and integrity to put yourself out there. If you try and attend without faith in yourself, and in a Greater Power than yourself, You will incinerate quickly.

You must attend with Love
(see above) It is advisable to carry as much of this as possible, and to stock up at every opportunity. You cannot top the tank too often.

You must attend without entanglement.
You must have a healthy sense of self in order to keep yourself out of the ditch. Never think that you are too cool to fall into a ditch. Ditches are sneaky. You must not attempt to do for people what they can and should do for themselves. The guy who helped the guy in the ditch was able to do some very personal attendance, and then he delegated.

Now, finally, to make the lesson explicit. This is not an optional discipline. Evil also attends; with diligence and willingness. Evil carries a stockpile of strife, malice and despair. Evil wants you to think that it is bold and fearless, but Evil is actually reckless out of necessity because Evil is afraid, very, very afraid. Afraid, among other things, that we will all learn to attend.

(The story of the guy who helped the guy in the ditch is found in the book of Luke the 10th chapter of the Christian New Testament)

I printed out the requirements to read again and again. Good reminders on a day filled with anxiety and stress over small and manageable things.

Beautiful... and compelling.

Any chance that Freedom Friends will create a poster that has these points for the Spiritual Discipline of Attendance?

I can easily see it hanging next to the poster with the words of George Fox: "Be patterns, be examples..."

And just so you know I'm not being quaint: I'm serious.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Thanks - wonderful as always. I have two questions - firstly, how do you stock up on love so that you can attend properly? Restoring love doesn't seem to be that easy to come by. Secondly, do you really see a therapist, is that an American culture thing, or did I miss the point? I would have thought the therapist would need to see you.
Just a note to say that I loved this, as always, and to reassure you that lack of comment is not lack of appreciation. Sometimes, there's nothing left to be said.
You must attend with the voice in your head turned off. Especially the voice that rants about what just happened, and the voice that is preparing for what you are going to say when something else happens, and the voice that makes lists about what needs to be done. There's that other voice too, the still small one, but I guess you should keep that one turned on.

Thanks, Peggy.
Amen sister, praise God.
Finally a couple of responses.

Liz - I'm not sure what form this is going to end up in - but I am pretty clear that I am not done with it.

Stocking up on Love.
obviously first and foremost this comes from time spent in the immediate presence of a Loving God. If this does not re-fill your love canteen, nothing else will. Sometimes it takes time, and patience to learn to surrender enough to really feel this connection. Secondarily, Learn to love yourself. Then, invest in relationships above all other investments, they pay off better.

as to the therapist. It is a bit of an American affliction. At present I have a Benedictine sister for a spiritual director, who happens to have been a clinical social worker in previous years, so she serves as both. I do believe in having a person in your life who you trust, who is a little outside your family or social circle. Somebody you will tell the whole truth to. Somebody who is dedicated to your spiritual growth. This is part of the investment in myself and in relationship.

tot he rest of you, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.
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