This morning I noticed that the lawn keeps changing colors. It’s green, but not just one green. It’s a bunch of greens and it keeps color-shifting. Not quite the same as shape-shifting, but still pretty impressive.
Some of the lawn is light green in the bright morning sun. Some is darker green in the shadow of the house or the trees. And were I to sit in the yard for the day, I’d see the colors keep shifting, moving. I don’t have the patience for that, but I know it’s true.
It’s easy to ignore the shifting hues of grass — easy to assume that the lawn is all the same color. But it’s not. In fact, every part of the color of the lawn keeps changing, all day long. And I’m curious that it’s so easy to ignore that fact: to assume it’s all the same color.
Then the question comes: How many other things around me are changing and different than I assume they are, without my even noticing?
The four boys in one family that I saw last night at church, ages 16 months to 6 years, are constantly changing. They seemed solid enough, but they were fluid in ways we might not notice. I mean, it was easy to see them wiggling constantly, moving about their high chairs or — for the two boys with functioning legs — the dining room. But beyond that they were growing. Brain cells were multiplying, bones were lengthening, skin was making room for new cells. It’s astounding to think about.
And I know my body is changing, too. Hair is falling off my head. Fat cells around my middle are growing. Skin is sagging. Brain cells are regularly committing suicide. But I’d rather not think about that.
For each of us the riotous changes are too rapid to keep track of: bodies developing or decaying, emotions coming and going, ideas flitting in and out of our heads. A lung-full of air comes in our noses, and something chemically different goes out. And the composition of each breath is slightly different in its makeup of oxygen and allergens, and who knows what else.
The view of the world I have is also constantly changing. I turn my head and always see something a bit different. And, if I pause to listen, I notice three kinds of birds singing in the distant trees, though moments before I was oblivious to it.
The world is wild with change. Astonishing.
We humans can’t keep up. I suppose the sensory overload is too much. So we learn to ignore much of what’s going on around us. We ignore the birds, the changing colors of green in the yard, the garbage truck passing on the street. Then something gets our attention. The hunger twinge grows more prominent and we notice the need. The unseen mosquito bite calls for a scratch. We notice the dog whining at the door to get in the house. Back muscles request a slightly different alignment other than the current slouch. The breeze is pleasantly cooling. How long has it been that way?
At any moment, then, we have the choice to notice what is going on around us or to ignore it. How do we decide? Perhaps our brain builds structures to help. We assume certain things are constant, acting in a fixed way, so we can ignore them. It’s helpful to accept that the shifting shadows in the yard don’t need my constant attention; I don’t need to do anything to keep the planets orbiting the sun or the cosmos spinning the right direction. To have such heavy responsibility would likely delay breakfast. I’m happy to forget about those duties.
But what am I ignoring around me that I should notice? How do I see with fresh eyes, listen with open ears? Or do I even what to?
Beauty is all around me, divine gifts of delight in every square inch. And I think about that line from the 1985 movie “The Color Purple,” where Alice Walker, seeing some vibrant flowers, comments, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Good observation. Yet we take the risk every day.
The thought comes, though: What if it’s not only beauty, constantly shifting beauty, that’s all around us, but God is present, too? What if in every changing molecule of the cosmos God is present and ready to be experienced, if we just have the capacity to notice?
Skye the Dog is sniffing around the grass, smelling odors too sophisticated for my nose. Then her ears swivel forward as she hears something I can’t — maybe the breathing of a squirrel. Amazed by her perceptive skills beyond my capacity, I wonder if she more easily observes than I do the moving of angels’ wings, the breathing of the divine. Though we humans are arrogant in our outsized abilities to engage our world, having opposable thumbs and more complex cerebral cortexes, maybe our brains get in the way of noticing some things that are all around us, like God. Perhaps the robins listening for underground worm movements and the mushrooms that decided last night was a good time to appear are more attune to the divine than I am.
I’ll have to think about that some more.
Or maybe that’s exactly the wrong strategy for contemplation of the Almighty. Maybe, instead, I should just watch the grass change colors.