Stop. Look. Listen. - A REFLECTION FROM FATHER RILEY

Updated: Jul 6


So read the railroad crossing sign in Shamrock, Texas, up the road from Grandma’s house in Brisco. I picture this crossing even now, some seven decades later, although I expect it is much changed today. The sign’s message remains, and is, spiritually profound. Stop. Look. Listen.


In the frenzy of modern life today we are subjected to a cacophony of stimuli. Our cell phones tether us to overwhelming reality and/or seductive misinformation.


Even the highway billboards electronically flip messages. And when we stop to fuel our vehicles, a TV screen starts talking to us. Advertisers cajole and manipulate us into pursuing material satisfactions and solutions.


In the midst of this cacophony, a couple of sane voices have spoken to me. Writer and preacher Frederick Buechner calls us to savor “The Remarkable Ordinary.” And poet Paulo Neruda extols us in Odes to Common Things that we need to Stop. Look. Listen. (Note: in the English language, clocks “run”; in Spanish, they “walk,” perhaps cajoling us to slow our frenetic lives.) Holiness envelops us if we will just pay attention—Stop. Look. Listen.


For decades I have used a camera as a tool and an aid on my walks, to help me Stop. Look. Listen. To frame a photograph requires that we stop, look, and behold (eye “listening”) the moment before us. What seems “ordinary” becomes, in the moment, beautiful, profound.


Another tool I’ve acquired is contemplative journaling, in which I’ve taken time (Stop) to write my experiences, pay attention (Look) to the energies in these experiences, and notice (Listen) the depths therein.


Here is one of my recent journal entries. Beyond where my dad prayed over the fresh grave of my dog Spunky, Beyond the septic tank, Northeast from our Texas Panhandle oilfield lease house was a pasture.


In this field my eight-year-old self discovered spent rockets from a Fourth of July and played with a rubber dagger I had stolen from the local five-and-dime.


But the field’s prize was a six-foot patch of wild grassas low and smooth as a putting green. It was surrounded by regular prairie grass, with trodden paths intersecting. I haven’t a clue as to the origin of this special place—there were rabbit pellets, and the paths suggested cattle, or was it coyotes?


This patch gifted me one winter. I remember lying on my back in a tattered green parka, absorbing the afternoon sun, with a gentle breeze above.


The God of my childhood’s Presbyterian Church paled compared with the connection I experienced in that silent, peaceful warmth, embraced in Divine love, the prairie grass waving on each side.


I had yet to learn of God’s creative Breath/Ruah calling creation out of primordial chaos. Still, there was wonderful knowledge in my experience.


“Breathe on me Breath of God, fill me with life anew,

that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”


The Hymnal 1982, #508, Nova Vita