Archives For Attention


“Slowing Down
And Immersing Ourselves in the Biblical Story

A review of
Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art:
Transforming Words and Images
into Heart-Centered Prayer

by Christine Valters Paintner.

Review by Chris Smith.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]

Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art:
Transforming Words
and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer

Christine Valters Paintner.
Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

How do we read the Bible in this age when – as Christian Smith has persuasively argued in his recent book The Bible Made Impossible – some traditional approaches to scriptures are on the verge of dying off?  Is it possible for us to engage and immerse ourselves in scripture in ways other than taking it as cold, static textbook?  The ancient practice of lectio divina (holy reading) is surprisingly relevant for our times, and Christine Valters Paintner’s new book Lectio Divina, The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer is an elegant and useful introduction to this approach to reading the Bible (or other texts) in today’s world. Continue Reading…


“Regaining the delights of
a child-like wonder and curiosity

A review of
Seeing Tress:
Discovering the Extraordinary Secrets
of Everyday Trees.

By Nancy Ross Hugo.
Photography by Robert Llewellyn.

Review by Chris Smith.

Seeing Trees - Hugo / LlewellynDiscovering the Extraordinary Secrets
of Everyday Trees.

By Nancy Ross Hugo.
Photography by Robert Llewellyn.
Hardback: Timber Press, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

[ Before you read this review,
please take a minute to peruse an excerpt from this book… ]

In an essay I wrote for Catapult magazine awhile back, I argued for tree-climbing as a redemptive practice and that the tree-top world is one of the few untouched natural spaces in urban areas like our neighborhood in Indianapolis.  I wrote in that essay:

Tree-climbing is a redemptive practice because by it, we get to experience intimately and be challenged by the virtues of a tree.  In observing the manifold forms of life that make their homes in or on a tree, we begin to get a sense of a tree’s hospitality.  A tree offers shade from the beating summer sun, and in the winter, its hollow nooks offer cozy nesting places for squirrels and other rodents.  In climbing a tree, one will undoubtedly experience the generosity of a tree, its bountiful fruit or nuts, its leaves, which in dying each fall are resurrected as rich compost.

In the same vein, I have just discovered the extraordinary new book Seeing Trees: Discovering the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and illustrated with delightfully particular photographs by Robert Llewellyn.

Continue Reading…


“Overwhelmed by a sense
of  God’s presence
and breathtaking beauty

A Review of
Present Perfect:
Finding God in the Now
By Greg Boyd.

Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown.

Present Perfect:
Finding God in the Now
Greg Boyd.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.
Buy now: [ ]

Greg Boyd - Present PerfectIn his new book, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, pastor and theologian Gregory Boyd advocates what he calls, “the most important discipline that you could ever practice” (10).  Drawing upon two monks from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Brother Lawrence and Jean-Pierre de Caussade, as well as a twentieth century evangelical missionary and literacy advocate, Frank Laubach, Boyd defends the need for Christians to practice the presence of God.

To illustrate the need of Christians to be aware of God’s presence, Boyd tells a story of a time he went on a run through the woods to train for an ultra-marathon.  While Boyd ran, his mind focused on the upcoming race and his performance in it.  A few hours into his run, he noticed a cricket chirping.  Boyd then noticed more and more crickets, and then some frogs, bees, and birds.  Boyd then noticed the beauty of the scenery around him and the fragrances.  Boyd says:

The moment felt sacred.  I felt I was waking up to God’s presence permeating all things and reflecting in all things.  It seemed I was, for the first time, waking up to the way the world is supposed to be experienced—the way it really is.  Overwhelmed by this sense of  God’s presence and breathtaking beauty, I began to weep (13).

Boyd uses this story to illustrate how many Christians go through life seemingly unaware of God’s presence around them.  Boyd calls on them to awaken to the “reality . . . that God is present in . . . every moment” (15).

Continue Reading…


“Attentive to the Grace of the Ordinary”

A Review of
Harvesting Fog: Poems
by Luci Shaw.

Reviewed by Jennifer Merri Parker.

Harvesting Fog: Poems.
Luci Shaw.

Paperback: Pinyon Publishing, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Luci Shaw - HARVESTING FOG: POEMSAt a recent literary festival I had the privilege of hearing Luci Shaw read from her lately published collection of poems, Harvesting Fog. Shortly afterward, standing near a table where she was signing copies of her books, I overheard an admirer’s brief exchange with the warm and personable poet, who had just thanked her for attending the reading. “Thank you,” the young woman replied, her voice full of emotion, “for helping us to see.” It was an appropriate expression of gratitude, I thought, towards a writer whose singular giftedness involves prodigious attention to the minute, mundane, and easily overlooked details, and the ability to discover unexpected meaning, even deep spiritual significance, in them all. The effect is awe-inspiring to those of us unused to straddling that fault line where the mundane and the mysterious bump and jostle one another and occasionally overlap.

However, as Shaw herself would probably insist, the poet lives on that line or—at least—goes there habitually. A poet’s work, as she describes it, is to keep “a foot in both the concrete, visible world and the ephemeral, invisible world, translating the experience of a spiritual realm into word pictures in order to bring a whiff of heaven to earth” (3). What Shaw sees from this vantage is what she shares with her readers, the everyday revelations of glory and grace in even the most ordinary moments of human experience.  In Harvesting Fog, she offers a collection of such moments, rendered in beautifully resonant language, articulating the sacredness and significance of life in a world at once beautiful and broken.

I have always welcomed the perennials
but today I celebrate weeds. The arrival of
horse-tails, their primitive vigor thrusting up
under the fence as if the Third Day of Creation
were just yesterday.  In penance, as redemption,
I will begin to touch the earth more lightly,
remembering to walk barefoot in the soft
forest so that I make no bruit or break…
(40, “Gardener’s Remorse”)

Continue Reading…


A Brief Review of

Haiku–The Sacred Art:
A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines
Margaret D. McGee.
Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Haiku has long been one of my favorite forms of poetry: short and simple enough to be written in one sitting, and yet spare; its brevity offering gentle discipline when I often am tempted to wax verbose.  So, I was delighted to find out about Margaret McGee’s recent book Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines, a superb exploration of this poetic form for both beginners and experts alike.  In the book’s introduction, McGee notes that haiku is intended to depict a single image, “a picture in the mind’s eye.”  She describes “the haiku moment” as “a moment when the mind stops and the heart moves.”  Thus, the practice of writing haiku is necessarily a practice of slowing down and of attentiveness, of focusing on a single object and the feelings that it stirs up inside of us.  McGee also emphasizes that haiku is more about the experience than about the final written product.  Drawing on these themes throughout, McGee explores how haiku can become a spiritual, contemplative practice.  Specifically, she focuses on how the experience of haiku captures “the heart of a moment,” how haiku can be a form of prayer, and the ways in which writing and sharing haiku with others can be a rich community-building experience.  The most engaging chapter in the book, however, was McGee’s reflection on combining the practices of haiku and Lectio Divina (a meditative way of reading and reflecting upon scripture; for those unfamiliar, I would highly recommend Tony Jones’s book, Divine Intervention)  Lectio Divina combined with haiku can help us to internalize passages of scripture that we might take them out into the world with us.   “When you carry the words of sacred texts out into the world with you,” she says, “and look with attention, you may see the words reflected back to you in the common events and objects of daily life” (92).  Practices of internalizing scripture have been well-known among monastics (and other faithful ones) for centuries – and especially in the era before the printing press made texts widely available – but McGee’s thought to combine haiku with reflection upon scripture is one that will undoubtedly be kicking around my head for a long while.  One of the book’s final chapters reflects the “presentation” aspect of how haiku are written, specifically how they can be incorporated with pictures or prose.

Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines is a rich little book, calling us into practices of attention and reflection that are lost arts in most corners of mainstream American culture.  I have no doubt that, if we would attend seriously to the ideas set forth here, we would be better prepared to hear that “still small voice” that seeks to transform us (and all creation) from the inside out.


The Wall Street Journal Reviews
By Winifred Gallagher

With so many things now demanding our attention — emails, Web sites, BlackBerry alerts, incoming text messages, Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, stock updates, and old- fashioned meetings and phone calls — many of us . . .

Some people, she explains, are badly prone to distraction and need to be treated for attention deficit disorder. Others, like increasing numbers of us multitaskers, are merely plagued by bad habits and technology overload, darting from one mental activity to the next. So what can we do to recover the sustained focus that fosters creativity and quality?

Read the full review:

Winifred Gallagher.

Hardcover: The Penguin Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $22 ] [ Amazon ]

The Orion Magazine Review of
Nature’s Beloved Son:
Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy

THE HABIT OF pressing plants began early for John Muir. He collected them for pleasure; he collected them to add to his store of knowledge. Muir’s plant press was a close companion on all his travels—his drawings show him sleeping with the press nearby, or swimming rivers holding it above his head.

A beautifully produced book, Nature’s Beloved Son is a treat both for Muir-lovers and plant people. Through stunning digital photographs of the botanical specimens collected by Muir during a lifetime of wandering, the authors tell the tale of Muir’s travels in Wisconsin, Canada, Indiana, Florida, Cuba, and elsewhere, ending with major chapters on California and Alaska. The text, by naturalist Bonnie Gisel, clearly the result of massive research, hits the highlights of Muir’s life

Read the full review:

Nature’s Beloved Son:
Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy
Bonnie Gisel.

Hardcover: Heyday Books, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

A new book on prisons
Reviewed in the NY Review of Books

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is currently sponsoring a bill that would create a commission to review America’s entire criminal justice system and make recommendations for reform. If the bill passes, its commissioners should bear in mind a small experiment that took place in the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, California, some years ago. This project, the subject of Sunny Schwartz’s brief, absorbing memoir Dreams from the Monster Factory, is important not just because it dramatically reduced recidivism, but also because it could help break the tired stalemate between liberals and conservatives over punishment versus rehabilitation. In addition, Schwartz’s book is revealing about the criminal mind and its thought processes, and thus contains valuable lessons for those at risk of incarceration, and for those close to them.

Dreams from the Monster Factory:
A Tale of Prison, Redemption and
One Woman’s Fight to Restore Justice to All
Sunny Schwartz  (with David Boodell)

Hardcover: Scribner, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]


Ultra Brief Reviews – 12 December 2008

By Chris Smith


The poetry anthology, THE FOUR SEASONS, a part of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series, is one of the finest collections of poetry that I have seen this year.  It is a sturdy hardcover, perfectly sized to fit in a coat pocket, backpack or camera bag, and would make a great gift for the nature poet (or naturalist with poetic interests) in your life.  To paraphrase Liberty Hyde Bailey, how better to enjoy the wonderful seasonal nature poems of the ages (by poets ranging from Chaucer to Blake to Dickinson to Cummings) than to have a portable volume that you can take and enjoy outside in the weather of the season! 


Speaking of poetry, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Franz Wright’s volume God’s Silence was released in a paperback edition earlier this year.  These poems which topically run the gamut from sunflowers to writing to faith and faithlessness demonstrate why Wright is one of today’s finest poets.  There is a lovely earthiness here, as Wright struggles to comes to terms with the experiences of life and death and the ideologies (e.g., hell ) that we construct to help us process these common experiences.


I don’t read many business books, but the title of Dave Crenshaw’s The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing it All’ Gets Nothing Done intrigued me and I requested a review copy.  This little book would be an excellent, very practical follow-up to Maggie Jackson’s DISTRACTED (reviewed in our issue #34).  Crenshaw crafts a direct, but somewhat hokey narrative to present his critique of multitasking.  This critique is grounded in the idea that we never actually multitask, but rather switchtask, and time-wise the switching costs between tasks are actually much greater than if we were able to maintain a singular focus on particular tasks in succession.   


In this review:



Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series

Hardcover: Knopf, 2008.

Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $10 ] [ Amazon ]



Franz Wright.

Paperback: Knopf, 2008.

Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ] [ Amazon ]


Dave Crenshaw

Hardcover: Jossey-Bass, 2008

Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $16] [ Amazon ]


“A Crucial Era for Humanity

A Review of Distracted:
The Erosion of Attention
and the
Coming Dark Age,
by Maggie Jackson.

By Chris Smith.

Distracted: The Erosion of Attention
and the Coming Dark Age.
Maggie Jackson.
Hardcover. Prometheus Books. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $20] [ Amazon ]

DISTRACTEDThe driving force behind Maggie Jackson’s new book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age is her belief – spelled out most clearly in the book’s final paragraphs – that humankind is at a crucial point in our history.  On one hand we have cultivated practices that have rendered it difficult for us to focus our attention on any particular thing.  One the other hand, research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience has provided us with a deep understanding of attention and how it is cultivated.  Thus, Jackson raises the crucial question:  “We now hold the potential to know, shape and utilize a full quiver of attention skills to combat a spreading culture of distraction… [will we] create a culture of attention, recover the basic ability to pause, focus, connect, judge and enter deeply into a relationship or an idea or [will we] slip into numb days of easy diffusion and distraction [?]”  (266) Continue Reading…