the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

unsure

Sometimes in the maelstrom of life, we have to push pause and wait. Waiting for me always includes spending time in the word, and from that, in prayer.

I am ordinarily filled with all kinds of ideas or thoughts, but as I get older, I realize more and more that I am dependent on God and interdependent on others. So that I need input and correction along the way, with encouragement.

And so that is what i want to be doing right now and today. I find that this is not just something I need to do during special times, but every day. But all the more, during those more difficult times. And sometimes to simply be quiet, be still, so as to hear that still small voice (or, gentle whisper).

processing thoughts (and life)

I can’t forget either Eugene Peterson saying, or I think writing that we should read less, not more. And slowly. I have been told that I am a thought processor in that I don’t jump on something right away with some kind of insight, but rather hold it in tow, to sift through it. I think that’s right. I hope I’m not addicted to thinking, another new thought which is new and you can find on the internet (a TED talk or two).

I would have liked to have read so many more books during my lifetime. Although I’ve read quite a bit from the books downstairs, I would say I’ve not even read nearly half of the written content in my own personal library, though I have read through a number of the books there. My work has not made that conducive, so the dream of really honing in on some subject, reading widely, then hopefully making some sort of contribution in that discussion or field, is now gone. I have listened to the Bible being read over the years, beginning as a new Christian with the KJV New Testament, then the NIV for so many years, though I haven’t been listening lately, but reading myself in a way in which I might end.

In this information age, we have all kinds of knowledge available right at our fingertips. We can easily get lost in it all, probably in more ways than one. And much of it can be quite good. But that doesn’t mean we’re to spend hours on end in it, from one good thing to the next.

Factory work is not something I planned to do, but only a job until I would hopefully get into the ministry, which didn’t pan out. I have second and third thoughts now, still wanting to do ministry, and enjoying the nursing home on Sundays. But thinking I should have worked on landing a teaching job early on. Factory work has its good and bad aspects. I have breathed some bad stuff along the way (not much, if at all, now). And the days have been monotonous, boredom has certainly been a companion over the years.

But boredom, and being in a place of relative silence, now with my New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs in hand, when I can glance at the next line, but such a place can be quite good for thinking on God’s revelation in Jesus as given to us in scripture and the gospel. And how that relates to life where we live, where I live.

I have to try to fit in well to the life that is, the reality in which I live. And be content there, with all the challenges we face, some of our own making to an extent. But much of what easily happens in the world in which we live.

We all have our place, our contribution to make, along with our limitations. We gather from each other what the Lord gives to us, to the entire church. And we work and rest there. Hoping and praying and looking. As we continue on together in the gift that continues to be given to us even in this life in and through Jesus our Lord.

Where is Jesus?

Sometimes we simply need to get away from it all, to be free of the pressing duties and even the concerns of life. To simply relax and enjoy, to be at peace. In that to seek the Lord indeed. But to have some amusement and fun, now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

During Jesus’s busy time of ministry, he had times when he would want to simply get away with his disciples and rest, although he couldn’t escape the people. He was known to get up early at least some mornings and get away to have communion in prayer with his Father. Yes, we need times like that. We need a certain kind of stillness and solitude.

But more often than not, we’ll find Jesus, and God in him in the pressing duties of everyday life, and in the difficult things which come our way. We can grow weary and tired over that, and we do need some breaks now and then. But more often than not, that’s where we’ll find Jesus, and God in him at work.

And so while we need to take care of ourselves, we also need to look for Jesus. Where is Jesus? What would God be doing in and through Jesus today, even through us who are in Jesus, in whatever humble way we can serve, even if only by being present?

when we’re tired and worn down

Sometimes we either feel on the edge or pushed over the edge at least a bit. The pressures of life can seem relentless with little or no place to turn. That is when we probably need to slow down, to stop, to be still and quiet. To know that God is God.

Also to read. For me reading scripture and meditating on it, and remaining in it is so key. But just as key is the weekly service of liturgy which includes the scripture readings along with prayers, including corporate confession of sin along with the priest’s absolution, confession of the creed, and together partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist.

Sometimes we simply need that extra physical rest. Maybe a break from normal activities to sleep. We always like those occasional, or in the case of some of us, periodic, but not often enough for most of us get aways. And we need to learn how to do it when the normal routine is still pressing up against us. Not easy, but we do need to find our bearings, our strength in the Lord, learning to wait on him so that we are both strengthened and ennobled. To not only go on, but go on well in and through Jesus.

being quiet and still

I have probably always loved music. At one time I used to play my classic rock albums nonstop and not quiet, either; I think now of my poor parents. And since I’ve been a Christian, I have listened to scripture being read most years daily. Not to mention the many Christian music albums I have, along with almost as many classical music albums. And now I like to keep up on the news, listening mainly on NPR. As well as catching some other programs there. So I’m not exactly disposed to quiet.

And I want to be doing something. Usually reading, if not listening to the news. Or now being online. Plenty to read there, as well as wanting to interact some, socially. My wife Deb tends to be quiet, but once she is talking, I want to listen well to her. And I can fill her ears with more than what she wants to hear and more than what I should say.

And so being quiet and still are not strong suits of mine.

But practically by necessity, I am learning a bit to practice both. Not because I would have absolutely had to. For the first time since one other juncture I can recall, I’m not listening to scripture being read. I am getting into the Book much more now the normal way. And I am not listening at all to my classical CD’s except ones I burned for the car. That chosen necessity will come to an end, but I plan now not to revert to my old ways, but to remain and hopefully grow in what I’m doing now. Yes, I’ll enjoy listening to my classical music again. (I have been listening to some of that from a local FM station). But to get back to the point, I am starting for the first time to really value being quiet and still.

In seeking to practice these more, I am wanting to be more open to the Lord’s voice and moving. I want to avoid drowning that out with my own voice and activity. I do that, reading scripture, and along with that, more and more reading good liturgy. As well as interludes of nothing at all. As our Pastor Sharon has told us, such practice is not easy. It is hard for me to consider this as something I want to practice regularly. For me to learn to do anything regularly, I need, as a rule to do it daily. For me it is an achievement to have any silence at all, and along with that any stillness on my part. But I want to grow in that. I think extended periods of it at certain times can be most valuable. But it is best not to look for some big breakthrough from an extended time of this. It is better yet for this to become more and more a part of our regular, daily life. To become a habit. A part of us, of who we are. As we seek to draw near to God in and through Jesus. To seek God’s face even in our darkness.

answers (and our true need)

Oftentimes in my life I’ve wanted to find answers to problems, to troubles which plagued me. In our day we can google and learn so much, and oftentimes quell/still our fears, though that can be a two-edged sword as well, as we learn things we just as soon would like not to know. On balance though, I think such quick access to oftentimes good information is good.

I think though in my life I have oftentimes failed to be looking for the kind of answer I really needed. Not that the down to earth, nuts and bolts answer is bad. That has its place, though I’m also convinced that the emphasis put on it, as well as the confidence invested in it is easily out of place. What I failed to do at least pretty much across the board during such times, was endeavor to find what we might call a spiritual formation kind of answer to the problem or issue.

I think this must come from the propensity to want to solve problems myself, yes even with the Lord’s help. What I needed first and foremost was not some resolution of the kind I was seeking, which is always subject to being challenged and overturned. No, I needed to find what the Lord might say, how he might direct me through the problem or issue.

Maybe I’m like Martha and not like Mary:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I have been and still too often am distracted by this and that instead of attending to what really matters. Not that we can’t get other answers to problems and issues as well. We can work on that. But that will leave us high and dry if we don’t turn to the Lord to get his word to us in the midst of it all, to find out our true need. A word for us and through us in Jesus for the world.