Thursday, September 13, 2018

City Notes '18 | The Eternal Current: Praying the Daily Examen

Do you understand that if we are in the presence of God and the reality of His Kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit, then every moment becomes an opportunity to open our eyes and partner with God's present work of grace?

This post continues some notes from one of the top books I have read in 2018: The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning by Aaron Niequist. Below is a previous post of notes from The Eternal Current:

City Notes '18 | The Eternal Current: A Prayer for Practicing Forgiveness

Today's notes come from a practice of examination and prayer that St. Ignatius of Loyola developed in the early 1500s.

Chapter 3 | Swimming with the River (John 7:37-39; Ezekiel 47): Eyes to See God's Work of Grace

In the presence of God and the reality of the Kingdom, every moment becomes an opportunity to open our eyes and partner with God's present work of grace (Psalm 139:7). While putting our kids to bed, we can partner with God's work in our kids, or we can miss out. When we get into a fender bender, we can partner with God's work in the person who wasn't paying attention and hit our car, or we can miss out. When our boss overlooks or mistreats us, we can partner with God's work in and through the situation, or we can miss out. Every moment offers an opportunity to align with God's immersive presence and get swept up in God's healing activities in our lives and the life of the world. Every moment beckons us to swim.

But how do we cultivate eyes to see the Current? How do we become aware of what has been true all along? Jesus ended several of His teachings with the odd and provocative appeal, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear" (see, for example, Mark 4:9). 

A Spiritual Practice from Saint Ignatius

One of the most powerful ways to learn how to have ears to hear and see God's present Kingdom breaking in is the prayer of Examen. This historic prayer practice helps us stop to listen to God and notice where His River has been flowing each day. It also helps us see the ways we swim with it or against it. T.S. Eliot famously wrote, We had the experience but missed the meaning, and approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.

Many of us live in a swirl of motion, and it's easy to let daily activities propel us forward without our ever dipping below the surface to notice what matters most. God is constantly planting seeds of life around us, but we rarely slow down to notice. 

Saint Ignatius Loyola developed the Examen more than four centuries ago. He suggested that each follower of Christ should stop once or twice a day for fifteen minutes and reflect on her or his day in God's presence. Over time this discipline opens our ears and our eyes to the holy possibilities of the reality in which we live.

Praying the Examen

Here's a simple version of the prayer in five steps.

1 | Invite the Holy Spirit's Guidance (1 Samuel 3:10; Romans 8:14)
Praying the Examen is not about figuring out what God is doing in our lives. Rather, we invite God to show us what He is already doing in our lives. We begin with this humble prayer from 1 Samuel 3:10: "Speak, for Your servant is listening."  
| 2 | Review the Day in Thanksgiving (Philippians 4:4-7)
Saint Ignatius taught that we should begin to look back with gratitude. Why? God's abundance is the foundation of the universe. Scarcity is very real in the moment, but it will not have the last word. And noticing the good blessings in life that point to the ultimate Reality is transformative. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). We should never deny the very real heartache and horror of life, but we dare not place them at the center. We anchor every Examen prayer in thanksgiving.  
| 3 | Notice the Feelings That Surface (1 Corinthians 2:13-15)  
As we review the last hour or day or week in thanksgiving, we begin to notice the feelings that surface—both positive and negative. We don't judge them as good or bad. We simply notice the feelings with humble curiosity. One of Saint Ignatius's key insights is that our emotions often speak truth in ways that our brains have missed or rationalized or avoided. Our feelings are not the entire story, but they often contain a crucial part of the story. We are blessed when we allow them to come to light in God's presence.  
| 4 | Pray from These Feelings (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:25; Philippians 1:9-10) 
As emotions rise, we ask the Spirit to help us choose one or two emotions to pray about. We begin by telling God what we feel—pouring out our hearts to the One who made us. Then we stop and listen. This is where the holiest of spaces can open up. Sometimes God speaks; other times it sounds like silence. I've experienced seismic moments with God during an Examen, and I've also been distracted and bored. God is not an equation to be solved but a relationship to be cultivated. God is love. God made us and is eternally present in our lives, tirelessly working for healing and good. All we can do is make the space to become present to His Presence (Psalm 46:10).  
| 5 | Look Forward to Tomorrow in Hope (Romans 5:1-5, 15:13) 
As we finish praying our Examen, we turn toward the future (Romans 15:13). Father Michael Sparough, SJ suggests that we ask the question "What do I want to hold on to from today that I can be especially conscious of tomorrow?" As we reflect on the pattern of the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in our lives, over time we learn new ways to engage the future with His grace. The Examen helps us notice the past so we can learn from it. Often we end this time of prayer by asking God to propel us in the world with a new sense of the Holy Spirit's presence (2 Corinthians 3:17), a new depth of wisdom from God the Father (James 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:30), a renewed faith that Jesus always is with us and for us (Matthew 28:20; Romans 8:31-32). At that point, our eyes are a little more open to see. 

Every part of this is God's work, of course. We don't generate any of the good fruit by praying the Examen. But we must choose to make space for it. We don't cause Jesus's Rivers of living water to flow (John 7:37-39; Ezekiel 47); they're already flowing now and for eternity. 

All we do is get into the water and let His Current carry us where He wants us to go. Are you ready to follow Jesus where He might take you?

Next post: City Notes '18 | The Eternal Current: Practice-Based Living, Community, & Mission

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

2017 | Gospel Fluency; Moving Towards Emmaus; Evangelical, Sacramental, and PentecostalFaith Without Illusions

2018 | The Eternal Current 

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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