A Discipline of Noticing

sunflower - photo by Jon Sullivan on Pixnio

There are lines from a poem by Ted Kooser to his mother that I think about often. In the poem, simply called “Mother,” Kooser grieves after his mother’s death. He misses her. But it’s the last lines that haunt me:

Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.

I think of these words as a directive. They are my prayer for my vocation as a mother, that I would teach my sons to see the life at play in everything.

I call this way to look at the world a “discipline of noticing.” I know I did not coin that phrase, but I cannot remember who did or who taught me to look at the world this way. I now teach my sons.

A discipline of noticing is making a thoughtful effort to see the beauty and goodness in the world. It may be as simple as taking the longer road home so I can catch a glimpse of Lake Washington or see my sons’ first-grade teacher’s house and hope she is in her garden for a quick wave. Or it can mean pointing out that the sunflowers in our yard have finally bloomed and taking the 30 seconds to walk over and look at them.

We look for these opportunities all day long, to show each other something beautiful. When we notice something beautiful, we are noticing God’s presence around us. We know that each time we do this, the rest of the family will look and listen. We learn to be present with each other and with God.

The big things in life—birth, marriage, celebrations—do not happen that often. We must learn to see splendor in every day—the way our elderly neighbor’s brother comes over once a month, and they cut each other’s hair on the front porch or the way a father and son share the same profile, even the lines in their face showing their connection and love.

I suppose I sharpened this discipline through the Examen. I especially turn to this prayer the evenings I feel lost. When I cannot see or feel God’s presence in my life, I pray that he will show me where he has been that day. And he always does. I have never seen God in a burning bush or sitting on a gravestone. But I have felt God’s presence whenever I see a bald eagle soar over Lake Washington or when I overhear kindness shared between strangers. I know God is here. I see him in the present now, instead of only through retrospection. Through a discipline of noticing, I share God’s presence with those around me too—especially my sons.

Photo by Jon Sullivan on Pixnio.


  1. Love it! I try to have that discipline of noticing and to share it with my children, it’s like the “thin places” from Celtic Spirituality. Finding God everywhere. Blessings!

  2. Shemaiah: You nailed it!! Beautifully expressed. We all have our dark nights, or desolations and our consolations. Sharpening the discipline of noticing, what a great tool to compensate for our rainy days.

  3. Right now my husband is suffering from a virus, dry cough (thanks be to God, not Covid). Despite his illness, he still takes care of my needs. Call it service, duty, I call it love. He is God’s presence to me.

  4. Thank you, Shemaiah, for this wonderful discipline. I try to point this out to my Faith
    Formation class of 4th & 5th graders: Open your eyes and notice the beauty all around us.
    There is God’s work reflected in His creation and God’s Presence also reflected in our brothers
    and sisters doing God’s will lovingly. And, as you say, hopefully they will look and listen and
    learn to be present to one another and to God in us. Beautiful!

    • I love this Rosy. My sons are just a few years older. I’ve had many of their friends over lately. At first, I noticed they thought it was weird that I did this but I am training them. The other day when driving the kids around town, one said “Miss Shemaiah! Look at the squirrel on the telephone wire!” I knew then, they are listening and learning to notice too.

  5. Love this so much! Yes! Here’s to finding God in the small things! I love your line “I have never seen God in a burning bush…but I have seen God in an Eagle soaring” – God is there, we just have to look, listen and feel the presence of God! Thank you!

  6. Thank you, Shemaiah – add to that the discipline of taking 1-2 minutes to read and reflect on your article and noticing the presence of God with us then also!

  7. Great article! There is so much to be taken in when we allow ourselves that beautiful luxury of noticing our surroundings. Often times it is relaxing and peaceful to turn our “noticings” into a story that captures the spirit of another. It can make “small things “ big and “big things “ small.


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