3.6.22 Sermon Recap and Lenten Practice: Prayer of Examen
YouTube link for 3.6.22:
On Ash Wednesday we entered into the season of penitence and preparation that is Lent. 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. The liturgy we used for Holy Communion today called to mind the many stories of “40 day” periods in Scripture - Noah’s ark, Moses on Mt. Sinai, a fast by the prophet Elijah, and, of course, Jesus temptation in the wilderness. I then opened the sermon sharing a bit about the Psalms. Every human emotion is found - joy and celebration, anger and sorrow. Last week we read Psalm 23 and I shared about reading it again Monday during a graveside - and having people from different traditions and different levels of involvement in churches repeat the words with me. Comfort in the midst of deep sorrow. I also read Psalm 8, a celebration of God’s creation that expresses amazement and joy - “what are humans that you are mindful of them?!”
The psalms encounter and embrace all our emotions - they give voice to “mountaintop” moments and our deepest, darkest valleys. Psalm 42 is a Psalm of lament - things have gone terribly wrong, God feels distant - and it contains elements of praise. In the midst of depression and isolation, the psalmist remembers moments they felt close to God and pledges they will “yet praise.” It is one of the foundational scriptures for a book called “Soul Reset” written by my late colleague and friend Rev. Dr. Junius Doston. Dotson was one of my models of successful, fruitful ministry as I was beginning my journey towards ordination - and his book is a very vulnerable examination of how he learned and grew through times of failure. Sometimes, even within the church, we get so busy doing that we forget why we do what we do. We become spiritually dehydrated, cutting ourselves off from our source. Dotson shares of a time when he fainted in the middle of leading a funeral from severe exhaustion. He’d been doing good things, but it had become about him and his effort rather than a partnership with God. I shared about a time when I had become physically dehydrated while working out - stepping up my effort without taking care to drink and replenish. I wound up collapsing and breaking my collarbone. Even good things can become imbalanced. We need a rhythm of work and rest and play. We need connection to our source.
Lent is a time built into the Christian year when we are called to remember and reorient ourselves. To make sure we are engaged in God’s rhythm. We read the familiar NRSV translation of Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We compared and contrasted that with a paraphrase by Eugene Petersen’s “The Message.” Paraphrasing scripture is a great way to explore and personalize it. Petersen’s insight here is one of his best - he has Jesus tell the disciples to “walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
It is a beautiful summation and enactment of his verse. All of creation has a rhythm. Day and night, the tides, the seasons, we too need not just a balance (for as a seminary professor taught me, you can balance heaving, unhealthy things) but a rhythm of work, rest and play to be what God created us to be.
Matthew 11:28030 is one of the key scriptures both in Dotson’s book and my own journey. Moving from working far too many hours in job I hated, back into church, into church leadership and ultimately becoming a Pastor. As Robin and I celebrate our 30th anniversary, I reflect on the patience and wisdom she has shown as I have changed a great deal. Like Dotson, I find when I’m in rhythm, when I share the yoke with Christ, I am more effective, more fruitful, more successful and less stressed. When I try to do it on my own, I a restless, exhausted and anxious. I’m trying to “force” it rather than work with and within God’s grace.
To close the sermon, I shared our first “Lenten Practice” - an ancient approach to prayer called “Examen.” Here is a handout I put near today’s bulletins, that will guide you through this practice that is closely tied to the methods John Wesley used with his early bands and societies. His focus question was ‘How is it with your soul?” We are used to asking “how are you?” but not really being prepared to listen - the expected response is “fine.” Wesley’s movement was about really listening and being accountable for our growing relationship with God and our neighbors. How is it with my souls is *the* question of Lent. I encourage you to use this practice of examen to help you explore that. Blessings on your Lenten journey.
A Short Introduction to the Practice of Examen
A Prayer of Examen is a spiritual practice introduced by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556AD) that involves a deep inward reflection on each day as an exercise in noticing the movement of God, our connectedness to God throughout the day, and learning to discern the will of God.
In the practice of examen we seek to find God in all the things of daily life. As we examine each day, we look for moments when we felt close to God, which Ignatius described as consolation. We then look for those moments in which we felt disconnected from God, defined by Ignatius as desolation. In both spaces, we can seek God and hear from God about God’s will for us, discover the truth about who we are, and be reminded that we are ever held by a good and loving God.
As we begin our Soul Reset series, this week you are invited to close each day with the practice of examen. There are many versions of this practice. Rev. Junius Dotson’s book has some different questions for each day of the week, Pastor Christopher is sharing a basic daily framework here using 5 steps. Light a candle if you’d like, find a quiet and comfortable spot with a view or object to help you center yourself and remove distractions. Take some deep breaths and work through these or similar questions. Start with a few minutes and go longer each day as you become comfortable with the process.
1) Start with Thanksgiving or counting your blessings.
What am I especially grateful for in the past day?
The gift of another day... The love and support I have received... The courage I have mustered... An event that took place today...
2) Then move to Petition
God knows you fully – ask for what you want, what you need, and what you think you need. Ask for others you know, and those you don’t. Finally, say something like “I am about to review my day; I ask for the light to know God and to know myself as God sees me.”
3) Then Review the previous 24 hours or so.
Where have I felt true joy today? What has troubled me today? What has challenged me today? Where and when did I pause today? Have I noticed God's presence in any of this?
Are there times I felt far from God?
4) Then consider your Response to what you have reviewed.
How do you feel about your review? You may want to repeat some steps – giving thanks, or asking for what you need. Pastor Christopher often finds himself saying things like “I believe, help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9) or praying through “sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8) On other days there is a celebration with “making joyful noises to the Lord!” (Psalm 100)
Be, honestly, where you are. The Scriptures, and especially the Psalms, are full of every human emotion, you are not the first to feel this – whatever this is – and God can handle it all. Your anger, your sorrow, your confusion and your joy. Know that nothing… nothing can separate you from the Love of God. (Romans 8)
5) Finally, take A Look Ahead
As I look ahead, what comes to mind?
Many people struggle with stillness and contemplation because their to do list tries to occupy their mind – in this step, Pastor Christopher finds permission to let all those to-dos come to mind – but in a way that centers God as the focus and asks how the to-dos bring glory to God. How do they draw me closer to God and neighbor? And particularly, you are encouraged to ask With what spirit do I want to enter tomorrow?
That is one brief approach to the practice of Examen. If you would like, Pastor Christopher would be delighted to talk with you about your experience. Call (316)833-4974 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time.
Blessings on your journey!