Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Jesuit Examen

I came across this the other day and found it both challenging and helpful. It made me realise how lopsided my Christianity is and how much more time I need to devote to be in the presence of God.

The Examen of Consciousness

This is a prayer where we try to find the movement of the Spirit in our daily lives as we reflect on our day. This prayer can be made anywhere: on the beach, in a car, at home, in the library. Many people make the Examen twice daily: once around lunchtime and again before going to bed. There are five simple steps to the Examen, which should take 10-15 minutes to complete, and what follows is just one interpretation of these five steps in discerning the movement of God's Spirit in your day. Through this method of praying you can grow in a sense of self and the Source of self; you can become more sensitive to your own spirit with its longings, its powers, its Source; you will develop an openness to receive the supports that God offers.

Before you start: Try to be in a place where you are least likely to be disturbed, and where there is the least amount of external noise. Perhaps you might light a candle or change the lighting when you pray to symbolise the start of this activity. Sit comfortably and still yourself; relax, be aware of your breathing, your body and how you are feeling.

1.   Recall that you are in the presence of God. No matter where you are, hilltop or valley, country or city, in a crowd or alone, you are a creature in the midst of creation. As you quiet yourself, become aware that God is present within you, in the creation that surrounds you, in your body, in those around you. The Creator who brought you forth into being is concerned for you. The Spirit of God, sent by Christ, will remind you that you are gifted to help bring creation to its fullness. Ask the Holy Spirit to let you look on all you see with love. "Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; ... it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right ... Love hopes all things." (1 Cor.)

2.   Spend a moment looking over your day with gratitude for this day's gifts. Be concrete and let special moments or pleasures spring to mind! Recall the smell of your morning coffee, the taste of something good that you ate, the laugh of a child, the fragrance of a flower, the smile brought forth by a kind word, a lesson that you learned. Take stock of what you received and what you gave. Give thanks to God for favours received. Also look at your permanent gifts that allow your participation in this day. Recall your particular strengths in times of difficulty, your ability to hope in times of weakness, your sense of humour and your life of faith, your intelligence and health, your family and friends. God the Father gives you these to draw you into the fullness of life. As you move through the details of your day, give thanks to God for His presence in the big and the small things of your life.

3.   Ask God to send you His Holy Spirit to help you look at your actions and attitudes and motives with honesty and patience. "When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) The Holy Spirit inspires you to see with growing freedom the development of your life story. The Spirit gives a freedom to look at ourselves without condemnation and without complacency and thus be open to growth. Ask that you will learn and grow as you reflect, thus deepening your knowledge of self and your relationship with God.

4.   Now review your day. This is the longest of the steps. Recall the events of your day; explore the context of your actions. Search for the internal movements of your heart and your interaction with what was before you. Ask what you were involved in and who you were with, and review your hopes and hesitations. Many situations will show that your heart was divided—wavering between helping and disregarding, scoffing and encouraging, listening and ignoring, rebuking and forgiving, speaking and silence, neglecting and thanking. Remember, this is not a time to dwell on your shortcomings; rather, it is a gentle look with the Lord at how you have responded to God's gifts. It is an opportunity for growth of self and deepening your relationship with God. Notice where you acted freely—picking a particular course of action from the possibilities you saw. See where you were swept along without freedom. What reactions helped or hindered you? See where Christ entered your decisions and where you might have paused to receive His influence. "Test yourselves," St. Paul urges, "to see whether you are living in faith; examine yourselves. Perhaps you yourselves do not realize that Christ Jesus is in you." (2 Cor.) His influence comes through His people, the Body of Christ. His influence comes through Scripture, the Word of God. Now, as you pray, Christ's spirit will help you know His presence and concern. As you daily and prayerfully explore the mystery of yourself in the midst of your actions you will grow more familiar with your own spirit and become more aware of the promptings of God's Spirit within you. Allow God to speak, challenge, encourage and teach you. Thus you will come to know that Christ is with you. Christ will continually invite you to love your neighbour as yourself and strengthen you to do this.

5.   The final step is our heart-to-heart talk with Jesus. Here you speak with Jesus about your day. You share your thoughts on your actions, attitudes, feelings and interactions. Perhaps during this time you may feel led to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, etc. Having reviewed this day of your life, look upon yourself with compassion and see your need for God and try to realize God's manifestations of concern for you. Express sorrow for sin, the obscuring darkness that surrounds us all, and especially ask forgiveness for the times you resisted God's light today. Give thanks for grace, the enlightening presence of God, and especially praise God for the times you responded in ways that allowed you to better see God's life. Resolve with Jesus to move forward in action where appropriate. You might like to finish your time with the Lords Prayer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sanctified ordinariness...

Last night I was privileged to attend a thanksgiving service for Colonel Brindley Boon. Back in 1971 Brindley (as UK Editor-in-Chief) was my Dad's boss and mentor but to us children was ( and always will be) 'Uncle Brindley'. For those for whom the name conjures up nothing – below are three of his songs (all in the current song book).

SASB 218 - Spirit divine, come as of old with healing in thy train...

SASB 786 - I would be thy holy temple, Sacred and indwelt by thee...

SASB 463 - For thy mission make me holy, For thy glory make me thine, Sanctify each moment fully, Fill my life with love divine...

I'm probably in a minority but my favourite of these three (which, incidentally wasn't mentioned last night) is song no: 463. Brindley understood that holiness (rather than being an end in itself) is actually a means by which God seeks to save others.

During the many tributes that were shared yesterday evening, Lt-Colonel Charles King (presiding) read one from my Father which described Brindley's 'sanctified ordinariness' as being the inspiration behind his own spiritual life.

Charles went on to make this reference to 'sanctified ordinariness' the basis of his final address in which he made the point that, although Brindley's first and greatest passion was the Army, he also had time for the English cricket team and Crystal palace Football Club! The challenge to the congregation was to allow the Holy Spirit to restore this 'sanctified ordinariness' to our ranks. It made me think of Paul's words to the Corinthians:

"19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."(1 Corinthians 9)

It also made me think of the lovely rendition of Romans 12 found in The Message:

"1 -2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out."

Suddenly the penny dropped – what is holiness? Nothing more than 'sanctified ordinariness'...

I think I'd like some of that!

Grace and peace, A

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A dream worth living...

I find myself pulled back to holiness and what it ought to look like today.

I do not enjoy a 'career of continued victory' over sin. Every now and again I deliberately disobey (usually when I'm down, tired, angry or frustrated), like a baby reaching for its security blanket so I reach for my familiar weaknesses.

This is not good enough – 'without holiness none shall see the Lord' – I want to see the Lord both in my own life and in the Corps I command.

Long periods of holiness interspersed with periods of rebellion just isn't good enough. The fact that I might actually being doing slightly better than those around me is neither here nor there.

Whitechapel 1875 and Acts 2 remain the benchmark and I must confess that I fall well short of these two measures.

I don't want to become a hard-hearted ascetic that doesn't know how to enjoy the good things that God has provided but on the other hand I do want to be as effective as I can as a husband, Father, friend and Officer.

I've been reading Knaggs' vision 'a dream worth living' and was struck by the following:

"Look in the mirror. Do you see what God intended a Salvationist to be? If you can say yes, then we're on our way. If your answer is no, then drop to your knees and give it up to the Lord, who loves you! Corps and Social Programs don't come out of a cookie cutter. What would your corps or program look like if it was what God meant it to be? Building changes? Leadership changes? Clean Sweep? Minor tweaking? These are too easy. Start with who you are and what you've got and get on with it. Have you prayed about it? It's the first thing to do. You can start right now. Where do you fit in the Army God wants? You do fit. It may be right where you are. It may not be. He knows. Ask Him Do it."

I'm going to really take this question of personal holiness to God in prayer – I want to know what holiness means for a Salvationist in 2009. I want to be holy, passionate, intense and constant. I want my faith and enthusiasm to be infectious. I want my energy to be high and my capacity for work deep. I want to be 'good seed in good soil'.

God wills that I should be holy – so Lord, bring it on!

Grace and Peace, A