Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Consciousness of Jesus ~ and My Own

This painting is titled: Finding the Saviour in the Temple by William Hunt. The Gospel account is Luke 2:41-52. After a trip to Jerusalem, Jesus became separated from Mary and Joseph. A frantic three-day family search followed, all the way back to the city, before Jesus was found sitting with the religious teachers in the great Temple. 

In Hunt's painting Mary is hugging and kissing the young Jesus who seems hesitant. He turns his cheek to his mother, his left leg is poised to resist being pulled in by her. And after she (perhaps testily) asks Jesus what he's been up to, he responds, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" He knows where he comes from, what he's about, what needs to be done, where his deepest connection is. That's conscious.

We tend to think of conscious and consciousness as hospital terms - "The patient is slipping in and out of consciousness," we say. Maybe the words aware and awareness are more helpful to us. 

One monk speaks of our culture as sleepwalking ~ absorbed with only what's right in front of us: to do, to blindly accept, accomplish, get to, purchase, consume. Sleepwalking is dangerous. Sleepwalkers bump into things. Sleepwalkers have no awareness. Sleepwalkers have no recollection. 

Here's some vignettes and ideas that might help us to consider our own consciousness. They might cause us to consider, to reflect, to ponder about ourselves and the place from which we're living.

  • There are monks who when walking in the woods are careful to place their feet so they don't step on ferns. That's conscious.
  • Saint Francis picked up worms from the road placing them safely off to the side in the grass. How aware!
  • Have a cup of tea and do nothing else ~ just enjoy the tea. How mindful!
  • Write an old-fashioned letter ~ paper, pen, envelope, stamp. Or a journal entry for a month. Or a poem. Or your own lyrics to a song or hymn tune. Writing slows us down and helps us to be more thoughtful. No one else has to see it, unless you choose to share it.
  • Sit and ask yourself: Why am I so fearful? So anxious? So angry? So inwardly bored? So overwhelmed? So needy? And don't accept "I don't know" as an answer.
  • Arrange flowers - even roadside flowers in a vase. Place them carefully. Changing the water each day is a little expression of gratitude for the gift each flower makes. This will dispel gloom.
  • There are 150 psalms (poem-prayers) in the Old Testament. They express every kind of human emotion before God. Carefully read one a day or even part of one. Don't try to figure them out. Find the one line that resonates with you. Hold that line inside.
  • When seeing something good or lovely, don't pass by, but at least inwardly stop and feel gratitude. That's conscious.
  • Stop for a moment before eating and consider the gift of food and drink. This delays the instant gratification we're so accustomed to in our culture.
  • Some Americans had completed a week long retreat in a Japanese mountain monastery. Before their departure a monk gave them some buckets and rags to clean the bathrooms in the guesthouse. When the Americans complained that there were no chemical cleansers, the monk replied, "Oh we would never put chemicals in a drain. Chemicals don't break down and using them might pollute the water supply of the villagers at the bottom of the mountain."
  • Listen to classical music: Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart. No house-cleaning, no reading, no meal preparation - just listening. What kind of inner response do you have?
  • Memorize a prayer or poem or the words to a hymn. There's not much memorizing anymore except maybe the names of the 31 flavors and the rapper's lyrics. I believe there is a real value to having memorized my prayers and catechism answers as a boy - it set me in an inner direction. 
  • Large art books are discounted in book stores. Buy one or two and just ponder the pictures. What goes on inside when looking at great paintings, maybe especially the ones about which I say, I don't understand it.
  • Learn to identify the names of trees by their leaves and bark. In the winter time set up a feeder and observe birds and learn their names. Observe your inner sense of things while your eyes do their own observing. That's an attitude of docility: there is much to learn.
  • Take care of  some houseplants, being sensitive and responsive to their water, nutrient, light and pruning needs. Don't accept the old excuse, "Oh every plant I touch just dies."  When we buy a plant there is a little tag stuck in the soil with care instructions. 
  • Take pictures of things that are delightful and arresting (that make you stop). Think beyond the children and grand children. There's something of a photographer in each of us. Take the pictures for yourself - not everything has to be shared.
  • In a diner booth across from me: the dad immediately set up and got lost in his computer, the laptop screen even creating a wall between himself and his young son who sat silently shredding paper napkins. Unconscious sleepwalker. Play a board game with a child, read with a child, throw a ball around with a child. The child will benefit, but so will you.
  • Get yourself to the doctor for the thing you've been concerned about (and perhaps haven't even shared with a loved-one) and about which you've done nothing. That's consciousness. 
  • During a monastery retreat I was talking with Brother Luke, the guest master and asked, "How much should I leave the monastery for the time I've been here?" He answered, "We ask for nothing." So I said, "Well, that doesn't help me - what would you like?" He said, "Only your comfort."  This is mindfulness.
  • When Brother Roger, the prior of the Taize Monastery, was at table and the bowl of food was passed to him, rather than putting anything on his own plate, he turned to the brother on his right and served him first. How awake!.
If my response to this is - "Oh I don't have time for any of this...I'm too busy," I would have to agree, too busy. But we can change that.


  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to show us all the wonderful ways to fight the enemy when he tries so hard to bring us into places of sadness, regret, loneliness, etc. Jesus has given us so many tools, to be happy. I think, you are one of them.

    1. These little calls to consciousness are gloom-busters!

  2. Sometimes it feels as though I am going through my daily routine on autopilot and stopping to think about my own awareness to things would be overwhelming. But your list of examination of consciousness presents challenges that I might be able to incorporate into my life, even a little at a time. I feel a sudden renewal taking place already. I will start simply with that cup of tea and nothing else and move on from there. Amen.

    1. An Examination of Consciousness, yes! Folks my age and older only know about an Examination of Conscience - measuring ourselves against a list of sins. Sometimes we'd make thinkg up just to have something to say in the confessional. The poor priest, having to listen to all of this for hours and hours. Enjoy your tea in a "hurry up" world.

  3. Sit for awhile and think about how you treat those who surround you in friendship. Are you thankful or do you take them for granted?

  4. Look at an old photo album and be thankful for the good memories. It brings an awareness for how much we have to be grateful for. Reminders for the little things forgotten. I do this when I get that overwhelming heavy feeling in my heart.