Baby, baby — the blessing of being wholly attentive

Andrew Taylor-Troutman reflects on a week of learning with poet and essayist Ross Gay.

Photo by Lisa van Vliet on Unsplash

I am grateful for a week with author Ross Gay as part of my Doctor of Ministry coursework. In a blurb for Gay’s new book, Inciting Joy, writer Pam Houston heaps praise: “His work is a free box of realizable light … Ross Gay is a secular blessing.” Lovely, yet not what you might expect for a seminary’s curriculum. “Secular” generally refers to things nonreligious or nonspiritual, and comes from the Latin meaning “the world.”

Call it “secular” if you like, Ross Gay’s words and his “realizable light” have helped me to affirm blessings not as part of an ethereal otherworld but of this world, here and now. In discussion with him, I mentioned an idea from Wendell Berry[1] about there not being sacred and un-sacred but rather sacred and desecrated places. Indeed, all creation is sacred — all things created through and held together in the Word (John 1:3; Colossians 1:17).

Gay’s thoughtful response was that it is our attention that makes the difference. I originally heard him say “holy attention” but, knowing his love of wordplay, I wonder if he meant less of a sense of “holy” (as in set apart) but “wholly” in terms of fullness and completeness. Paying attention with all of one’s mind, body, spirit, energy, heart … however, you might put it, Ross Gay’s work bears witness to the blessing of being wholly attentive.

Before the week of class, I reread The Book of Delights, Gay’s best-selling journal documenting a year of daily joys. I focused on the dates that corresponded to our time together in class this year. It turned out that, just like me, Ross had flown on January 15. That day’s delight for him included a flight attendant calling him “Baby.” This moniker of affection made him feel special, even more delightfully so when it was eventually revealed that everyone on that flight was her “Baby.”

The day after my flight, I sat outside in a wooden-backed chair waiting for class to begin. I angled my head toward the rising sun, which was vacuuming up the morning chill in the air. A woman walked past, dusting the window sills, and in her Caribbean accent she instructed me: “Baby, you soak up da sun. It good for us.” I matched her grin with my own.

Secular, sacred, whatever — Baby, it’s a blessing.

[1] I know, another quotation from yet another writer! Gentle reader, remember I was in class.