The Examened Life

It’s November. The days are getting shorter, and the separation between Halloween and Christmas seems to shrink a little bit more every year. I don’t want to lose this month of harvest and giving thanks.

Last year, I wrote a pandemic curriculum for Thanksgiving based on the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius. In a time when many activities were out of the question, and many people were questioning their life patterns, it seemed like a good idea. I put it in the form of three questions:

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Families were encouraged to take some time each day to answer them together, and were given paper of various shapes to write their answers down. It was my way of offering a specific spiritual practice for God’s beloved children of all ages.

This year, even with the restoration of some of our pre-pandemic patterns, I’m returning to the three questions of the Examen for the Thanksgiving curriculum. What was good this day/week/month/season? What was hard? Where did you see God? I hope you will join me, adding your own answers and spending time with the creator who loves you beyond measure.

Click here to add your thoughts on these three questions;

https://padlet.com/ccpsundayschool/1cb2vk2xkdnyrxeh

Noonday Prayers

I pray in the morning, I pray in the evening, but I don’t pray at noon on any kind of a regular basis.

I’m familiar with Morning Prayer and Vesper liturgies, but not the Noonday service.

I say prayers throughout the day, depending on what I see, hear, and feel; I don’t say mid-day prayers as a routine activity. There’s no “noonday prayers” on my calendar. Why is this?

Our Muslim sisters and brothers pray at noon as part of their every day faith, stopping in the middle of activities to orient themselves toward God. Isn’t it time I give this a try?

I hope you’ll join me. With these words, let us begin…

O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make haste to help us.

 

Proud Thoughts

Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13, NRSV

Keep back your servant also from proud thoughts – the alternate translation of that first part of the verse. This isn’t a prayer for God to keep me away from the insolence of others: it’s a prayer to God that I don’t become insolent. But, as like attracts like, if I hang with an insolent crowd I’m probably guilty of the same vice.

Proud thoughts (the ones that make me see myself as comparatively better than others) aren’t the same thing as self-confidence or self-love. Proud thoughts are those internal conversations that demean others so that I can feel inherently superior. They shrink my soul even as I diminish the worth of others. There is no doubt: this is a great transgression. Evil comes easily from such thoughts.

The Buddhists list right thought as one of the chief elements in a holy life. This is having the right perspective more than it is the lack of thinking mean thoughts. Their point is that everything else springs from this basic starting point. Wrong thoughts cannot lead to right judgement, speech, or action – harm will come from the wrong perspective, damaging others or damaging self, and often both.

Perhaps there’s no better way to avoid proud thoughts than asking for God’s help. Knowing I cannot rely on my own strength of character, and knowing I can rely on God’s love, is a good starting point.

 photo by Donna Eby

It’s Not Just About Me

…the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

[Psalm 19:9-10a, NRSV. For the complete psalm, click psalm 19 above.]

 

English doesn’t quite get the point across. This isn’t fear in the sense of afraid-for-my-life/scared-to-death; this fear of the Lord is the quickening of the pulse, the scared-to-life sense when holiness shows up. This isn’t fear that harm will come, but keen awareness of the difference between creature and Creator.

This awareness of my own limitations, this encounter with the love that created all that is, this is what I should desire more than gold. My finitude in the presence of the loving Infinite doesn’t diminish me: it just gives me the slightest glimpse of God’s sacred love of everyone and everything else.

It’s a wonderful and humbling gift of truth: I am God’s beloved, and I walk a world full of other beloveds.

 

Big Picture, Human Law

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

[Psalm 19:6-9, NRSV. For the complete psalm, click psalm 19 above.]

What revives your soul and makes your heart rejoice? What makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes? My off-the-cuff answers:

Beautiful images revive my soul.

The moon path on the water makes my heart rejoice.

A compassionate heart makes the simple wise, and meeting a beloved enlightens the eyes.

I can’t say that law comes to mind as the answer to these questions, but it should – especially the law of the Lord. Maybe something like this…

Not looking at my neighbors’ possessions with envy makes it possible, even inevitable, that the sight of them will bring joy.

Avoiding eating and drinking to excess honors the work that went into growing and preparing the bounty on my table, and keeps my body nourished.

Laziness wastes the precious hours, days, years, and decades I have been given; using my time and energy wisely (including rest!) satisfies my body, mind, and spirit.

Loving God above all other things keeps me from enslavement to money, status, and other harmful masters.

Seen this way, the Law of God is a gift, the path to a loving, joyful, sacred life. Not fetters, but freedom.

How is it that the Law of God is so rarely framed in this way?

Like a Bridegroom

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,

and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

[For the whole psalm, click “Psalm 19” above.]

 

Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics to a god, animal, or object.

 

It’s frowned upon, this attributing human characteristics to non-human entities. It’s considered naive at best, woefully ignorant and dangerous at worst. This is something children do because they don’t know any better.

But poets do the same, as do holy women and men. Metaphorically, perhaps, but they do it. And our lives our better for it because we find ourselves in relationship with beings and things we would never be otherwise.

The sun rising like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, finding joy in the daily run across the sky. The cosmology might be a bit off, but the gist of it is true: there is nothing in this entire creation that isn’t connected in one way or another.

It’s better to see in the arc of the sun a living spirit than to look upon this creation as nothing but a collection of objects without purpose or soul.

 

Psalm 19

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Walking down the street and looking at the other people walking by; waiting in line at airport security; pushing a cart down the grocery aisle: why is almost everybody looking down? At phones, their feet, the sidewalk, luggage – what is so fascinating that so few glance upward?

I am grateful for two feet planted firmly on the ground, but there’s so much more to see beyond my own toes. The glory of the constantly changing color of the sky in all kinds of weather; clouds that reveal and conceal, morphing into shapes familiar and unidentifiable; stars and planets emerging in deepening dark and fading in coming light.

God offers the beauty of the heavens, sometimes calm and other times fearsome. It sings in my heart and resonates deep in my bones. It can bring perspective, beckoning me to let go of my own pettiness and the meanness of others in favor of living in awe.

Proclamation at its best requires no words.

 photo by Donna Eby

[Psalm 19 can be found in its entirety by clicking “psalm 19” above.]

Each and Every One of Us

You weren’t put on this earth to be miserable.

It’s something my grandmother used to say, a truth that’s been handed down three generations and beyond. Life isn’t easy, but it isn’t meant to be awful. Difficulties are a given, and times of trouble and sadness are just part of life’s fabric; so is fun, joy, and satisfaction. Work finds its counterpart in play, tears in laughter, boredom in fascination.

This old world holds so much, as does the world within. You aren’t made for unending misery: you are made for joy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

It is there for each and every one of us.

Deep Inside My Bones

“I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’

for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Hebrews 8:10b-11, NRSV

Are you enough? Are you loved, and lovable? Do you know, REALLY know, that God delights in you?

YES is the true answer: you are enough, you are loved and lovable, and you are a delight to God. Know this, accept this, inscribe this in your head and on your heart. This is the law of love that guides life and gives us all we need to embody love in our outer actions and inner thoughts. We won’t do it perfectly, and we might not always do it happily, but we can and will do it. And that, my friend, is reason enough to rejoice.

Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

[The Deer’s Cry]

Just The Way You Are

May you be content with yourself just the way your are.

No one is perfect – it’s one of the larger truths of life. No one gets the right answer every single time, perfectly executes a new skill on the first try, or embodies physical perfection. Some sing off key, others can’t draw a recognizable figure. Some can’t cook, some can’t organize their schedules or living spaces. Some show up too early, some show up late for everything. Imperfection is everywhere – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. No one is perfect.

But perfection isn’t the point, and seeking perfection is an exercise in frustration if not futility. None of us are expected to be perfect by God, and none of us should expect perfection from ourselves or others.

To remember that perfection isn’t the point, I ask myself a single question: Today, am I someone who tries to love God, myself, and my neighbor? If I my answer is yes, I am content.

There’s only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you exactly as you are. Mr. Rogers