Tell about it.”
Those words come from the poet Mary Oliver. She calls them “Instructions for living a life.” “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” (Excerpted from “Sometimes,” by Mary Oliver, Devotions, 105)
How’s that going for you these days?
When was the last time you could not help but tell about something you saw, heard, or experienced? It was simply more than you could hold or contain and you just couldn’t keep it to yourself. You had to tell about it.
Before you answer, let me clarify what I am talking about and what I am not talking about. I’m not talking about a juicy scandal, scoop, or gossip. I’m not talking about what you heard or saw someone else say or do. And I’m not talking about simply recounting the events of your day.
I’m talking about the kind of things that wake us up, that change our lives in large and small ways, that offer or ask more of us than we’re prepared for. I’m talking about the kind of things that bring us meaning and purpose, that enrich and enliven us, that give us direction and hope. I’m talking about the kind of things that leave us wholeheartedly committed to whatever it was we saw, heard, or experienced regardless of what others may think, say, or do. They are the kind of things that clarify and shape for us who we are and who we are not.
That’s what’s happening to John, Mary, and Isaiah in today’s scripture readings (John 1:6-8, 19-28; Luke 1:46-55; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11). That’s what we hear them saying. They aren’t reporters reporting, they are witnesses witnessing. They are testifiers testifying.
“[John] came as a witness to testify to the light.” This is the light that is life. This “light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” This is “the true light that enlightens everyone.” (John 1:4-5, 9) John will not keep quiet about this light, even to the point of losing his head.
From deep within her soul Mary proclaims and testifies to “the greatness of the Lord.” “The Almighty,” she says, “has done great things for me.” God “has looked with favor” on her. She’s experienced God’s mercy, strength, lifting up, filling, and help. (Luke 1:47-55) Even though she doesn’t know how this can be (Luke 1:34), she can’t keep quiet about it.
And even though Isaiah declared himself to be “a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), he testifies that God anointed and sent him “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, … to comfort all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1-2)
The energy of God has been stirred up in each of them to the point of overflowing and they can’t help but testify. Their words and actions tell it all. They can’t keep it to themselves.
Witnesses like John, Mary, and Isaiah don’t tell us what to look at, listen to, or do. They tell us what they have seen, heard, and experienced. They don’t give us an answer or a solution. They show us a way of being and living. They inspire us to stay open to the future and what might be coming. They encourage us to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. And I wonder what that means for your life today.
So let me go back to the question with which I started. When was the last time you could not help but tell about something you saw, heard, or experienced? What are you bearing witness to?
- How long has it been since you were overwhelmed by the mystery and sacredness of life?
- How long has it been since something small, ordinary, and simple filled you with gratitude?
- How long has it been since you tasted joy?
- How long has it been since you heard hope whispering in your ear?
- How long has it been since beauty left you speechless?
- How long has it been since you heard silence say everything that needed to be said?
- How long has it been since your heart broke over the pain and hurt of another?
- How long has it been since you looked at your life and thought to yourself, “Yes. Yes, thank you?”
- How long has it been since love took your breath away?
- How long has it been since you felt yourself to be a part of something bigger and beyond yourself?
- How long has it been since tears were the baptismal waters renewing your life?
- How long has it been since you were astonished?
And how long has it been since you told about it?
What witnesses like Isaiah, Mary, John, and poets like Mary Oliver know is that there is always something to tell about, always something to be astonished by, and always something to pay attention to.
If we are not telling about it maybe it’s because we’re just not astonished. And if we’re not astonished maybe it’s because we’re just not paying attention.
Paying attention is less about focusing on something and more about openness and receptivity to everything. It’s less about what we do with our eyes and ears, and more about what we do with our hearts.
What if we let the witness of Isaiah, Mary, and John encourage and companion us through the rest of Advent? What if we took Mary Oliver’s instructions as our Advent practices between now and Christmas?
“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Well? Can you do that? Will you do that?
Can I get a witness?