Learning to Notice – A Review of “Noticing God” by Richard Peace

Every day millions of sights and sounds compete for our attention. Surrounded by stimulation from smartphones, computers, televisions, and billboards – not to mention any ordinary human interactions – most of us passively receive this onslaught of information. As we do, we miss the voice of the One who calls out and reveals himself to us in the midst of the world. Somewhere in the midst of the noise, the “still small voice” speaks. What do we hear?

Thankfully, Richard Peace has written a book to help us learn how to be attentive to God’s presence and voice in the midst of this cacophony.  The book is called Noticing Godand IVP sent me a copy to review several weeks ago.  And I am thankful, not just for the free copy of the book, but much more for the lessons it taught me about disciplining my mind to cultivate gratitude for God’s work in my life.

Peace’s book is a challenge to take active control over our attention, to deliberately try to notice God’s presence and activity in and around us. He writes, “God’s presence pervades our world. God is not hiding. The problem is with us. We don’t know where to look or what to expect. We do not seem to notice.  We need to learn to notice”  (p.14). Learning to notice God, for Peace, is a spiritual discipline, a practice we can adopt in order to be more receptive to the Holy Spirit’s transforming power. Each chapter of Noticing God addresses a different venue in which we can cultivate the skill of noticing God: in ordinary life, in Scripture, in community, in creation, in culture. Some of these chapters read too much like an overview to go deeply into their subject matter. For example, the chapter on noticing God in the Church only gives a page and a half to the subject of Eucharist.  Entire books could (and should) be written on how to “notice God” in the sacraments.  But the point of this book is not to provide detailed theological discussions of how God is present to us. Peace’s objective is to encourage us to slow down, open our eyes, and look for God, and each chapter contains plenty of suggestions for how to do this.

My personal favorite parts of the book came from Peace’s engagement with Ignatian tradition. Peace writes that “At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is the principle of finding God in all things” (p. 38), and this desire to see God in all things is what drives the book forward. One part of Igantian spirituality which Peace opened up to me in a new way is the prayer of examen, a disciplined reflection upon the prior events of one’s day.  The method of examen which he describes in pages 41-43 begins with reflecting on the previous 24 hours and noticing all the gifts and blessings God provided during that time. Thankful for these blessings, one then reflects on the same period of time, asking where God seemed most present. Then one moves to confession, acknowledging sins and failures to the loving God who nonetheless provided the blessings noticed earlier. Learning to begin examen by recalling blessings was particularly helpful for me, revealing to me multiple occasions for gratitude which I would otherwise have missed.

Peace’s goal, however, was not just to open our eyes to God’s presence through traditional spiritual disciplines.  He wants us to look at the world around us with eyes that attend to God’s presence and activity.  While seeing evidence for God in the beauty of creation is nothing new, Peace’s chapter on “Creation, Culture and Creativity” demonstrates the ways in which human cultures both reveal God’s glory and our human hunger for transcendence. This chapter is especially worthwhile because of its missional significance.  When we cultivate an ability to see both God and humanity’s hunger for God revealed in cultural artifacts such as music or film, our ability to connect the Gospel to people’s lives increases. We become like the Apostle Paul, citing Greek poets when evangelizing in Athens (Acts 17:22-34). We can practice the “spiritual discipline of noticing God” not just for our own sanctification, but for the sake of inviting others into the Kingdom of God.

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