Tools for the Journey: Presence


I am continuing to address the question, now with various means for personal devotion. You may find a list of all posts in this series here

As I sat at my desk on a recent morning, something in the backyard caught my eye.

A Common Redstart. The white forehead was an immediate clue that this was not a Black Redstart which are often in my backyard. I picked up my binoculars and looked at it, following its movements around the yard for maybe 90 seconds before it flew off.

I resisted the urge to quickly put the binoculars down and pick up my field guide to identify the bird. First, that sometimes leads to realizing there was something I needed to see, but failed to, in order to make a positive identification. I have learned that lesson more than once over my years of birding. Second, and more importantly, I stopped and said to myself, “This may be the only time in your life you see this bird. Enjoy it.”

This sentiment was not just inspired by our impending move from Germany back to the United States. It was not just inspired by my knowledge that some bird sightings are just that way—birds fly into your yard (or wherever you are) on that one day and then you never see them again. It was also inspired by my desire to be present, to participate in the moment, to appreciate this feathered gift from God, to not immediately quantify and classify it.

I cannot take credit for being so in tune to my environment all on my own. The previous day, I had read an article on First Things reflecting on our contemporary tendency to “shoot first” without even bothering to ask questions later. The author observed that visitors to London’s National Gallery “would drift toward a painting, stop, read the placard, lift their smartphone, click, and move on to repeat the process for the next work of art that caught their eye. The whole ritual took about fifteen seconds—twenty, if the work was famous enough to merit a selfie.” Fifteen seconds for Van Gogh’s Starry Night? It seems almost criminal.

It reminds me of this picture I saw last fall.

We would do well to learn from her example. Picture taking is not intrinsically bad, but living as our own self-inflicted paparazzi is. Jesus instructed us to not let our right hand know what our left hand was doing. I wonder what he would have said about not letting the entire internet know what you are doing via your smartphone?

Life is fast and fragile. We should view as much of it as possible in first-person, not by placing a screen between ourselves and it. This First Things article goes even deeper into the topic. Frighteningly so.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under heaven.
A time to photograph, and a time to watch,
A time to share, and a time to keep it to yourself,
A time to plug in, and a time to unplug.
I hope it’s not too late….¹

¹ Apologies to Solomon and Pete Seeger


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