Briana Meade: Attend is a book for anyone who is wondering how to connect with God but is overwhelmed. If you really don’t talk to God on an everyday basis and just need some simple thoughts about who God might be, it’s a great book. For me, I feel tired and don’t know what some words mean anymore. It’s something I struggle with when I hear the word faith or grace. They’ve become overloaded.
Laura Werezak: Hi. I’m Laura. I’m a mom in my 30s living in New York City. My husband is an Anglican minister. I’m super excited to be with you and I’m so glad that the book has been a blessing to you.
BM: Let’s dive right in and talk about the name of the book. Your book is named “Attend”, what does that word come from?
LW: I first came across the word “attend” in a book on Attention Deficit Disorder called Scattered. The author described how the word comes from Latin roots meaning to stretch toward. I found that striking because when I think about paying attention or attending something I don’t necessarily think about the physical posture of my body, stretching towards something.
When I started to look in the scriptures for the concept of attending, paying attention, I realized the ancient Hebrews and the people in Jesus’ culture in the ancient Near East, they didn’t think of paying attention the way that we use the phrase as sort of an abstraction. They thought of face-to-face relationships. They were asking God to turn his face toward them. They were turning their faces toward God. I love that language throughout the Bible and I found it challenging as I started thinking about what it means to pay attention in our Attention Deficit world today.
BM: Absolutely. Oh, I love that. One of the interesting things about this book is it is structured like a devotional in that you can read different passages. My experience with devotionals is that they tell me how to do something that I’m already failing at. What was so pleasantly surprising was that as I started reading Attend, I felt my soul stretched, but also calmed. It helped me literally take a different posture of relaxing towards God because the different suggestions you offer are part of daily life. God cares about when I’m cooking or when I’m cleaning or when I’m doing the most basic of things. In one chapter, you talk about chopping an onion to be more attentive. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LW: Based on a chapter in a book called “The Supper of the Lamb” by Robert Farrar Capon. He’s this kind of funny Anglican Priest who just had a very singular view of the world. A view that the world means more than just the physical stuff of it but that we can experience God’s grace in the world in our everyday lives. Capon recommends spending a whole hour with an onion just cutting it or just observing the onion first and then cutting into it and taking it apart.
Slowing ourselves down gives our full attention to something God has made and something good in creation. Paying attention to all of our senses when we’re experiencing that thing. What does it look like? How does it smell? How does it feel? How does it make your eyes water? All of the different aspects of this experience of something that’s just so every day. You cook a lot, you just use onions and don’t even think about it anymore. Capon challenged me to slow down spend some time thinking about what this thing is and where it comes from. That can definitely be sort of a meditative practice in our lives.
BM: I love that. I think you touched on a theme throughout the book, which is the beauty in the ordinariness of a life. I love that you quote Rolheiser who said “We are restful when ordinary life is enough.” What does an ordinary life look like to you, or what does that mean to you?
LW: I think the experience I was writing of in the book was the experience of becoming a mother. I was a student before I became a mother and so I was involved in the academic world. I was mostly living in my head with grand thoughts and then I had a baby and within a week I was no longer in my head. It was a grueling experience of the physical world. Just the tasks that had to be done every day. That was a huge challenge for me. That transition was hard for me. I think we are constantly trying to wiggle out of inconveniences.
I found it an important thing to find ways to remind myself of what I knew but hadn’t actually worked out in my life that God cares about these things. He cared about my academic life, yeah. He cared about my work life when I was a teacher before that. He cares about the things that no one else sees. The things I’m not going to put on social media. The tasks that feel repetitive and meaningless sometimes. It felt good to know that God saw my life and cared about it.
BM: That’s super powerful. How would you respond to someone who has had a traumatic or difficult experience and feels that they’ve lost the sense that God exists or they don’t really believe that he’s there?
LW: I recently heard Marilynne Robinson speak and she talked about feeling like a person who doesn’t work hard for faith, she doesn’t have like lots of spiritual practices in place or anything to sustain her faith. She said that she feels like faith sustains her.
The sort of connection with God that she feels, stays with her. She acknowledged that not everyone feels like that. For some people faith really is a struggle and a lot of hard work to maintain. I think I fall more in the category like Marilyn. Faith was something that I couldn’t quit even when things got really difficult. I grew up in a very fundamentalist environment in the Midwest. There came points when I felt like I didn’t fit there. My response was to run as far away from the Midwest as possible. I just got out of there, which I don’t think totally solved the situation but at least it opened up new pathways for me where I didn’t feel trapped in old ways of thinking about things. I just kept searching for something else. Something else.
For me, one thing that comes across pretty strongly in the book but hopefully not overbearingly is that I found a lot of comfort in the Anglican tradition and in the book of Common Prayer. That became sort of a point of stability in the constantly shifting world of trying to decide if I really could be a Christian still.
BM: I struggle with that a little bit myself so it’s so encouraging to hear how people find that sense of belonging when they do find the church that they feel safe in or that they can be themselves in. I love how you talked about faith coming up from the bottom up sustaining. I think for many, faith is a gift. Hard to keep sometimes but so precious when you hold it like that or when it’s given to you.
Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about from the book?
LW: I don’t know. This book was my survival strategy. It’s not just like I was writing for other people. These are the things that I’ve come to over and over again in my life and that I wanted actually on a list, physically in front of my face to be able to look at and be like yes, okay. When I’m feeling like I don’t have anywhere else to go this is what I front, look at.
I still come back to them now in the … sometimes sort of stressful moments in getting a new book out into the world. I have a small email group of people who are following the book through the forty days of lent this year. It’s been really good for me too to re-visit slowly one day at a time each of the practices and just think about them and notice them again in the world and maybe take a picture of something related to that. The things that you can come back to over and over and over again and it can slowly build.
BM: Actually can we name a few of the different practices: Open a Window, Make Your Bed, Plant a Seed, Set Your Table, Sing a Hymn or a Lullaby out Loud, love that. Clean Up a Mess. Ask Someone for Forgiveness. Send a Handwritten Note to a Friend. Admit Your Sins to God. Go For a Walk.
I love how you talk so many of these things even from the very beginning of the book all the way through there is a real resistance against gnosticism, which is the idea that you have to separate your physical or real-world self from the spiritual self that you are. Throughout this book, you’re constantly calling the reader and saying hey, come with me on this journey on a walk, on cutting the onion, on spending time singing. These beautiful things that are so human and I think that God loves so much about us. Like these things that we have to do every day that God is like, I know you little human, you have to do all these little human things and I’m going to meet you right there. That is what’s so beautiful about these different devotional chapters that you have here. Thank you so much, Laura, for talking with me today.
LW: Awesome, thank you, Briana. I’m really honored by this opportunity.