In the days before Sat Navs and you had to read maps I remember taking a course at Air Cadet camp. The instructor said over and over again, “You can’t get to where you want to go until you know where you are.” A “few” decades later and having read a lot of books on spiritual growth and tried to grow as follower of Jesus I can’t help but think that my map reading instructor would have made a great spiritual director. The truth is we can’t really make any progress in becoming the people God wants us to be until we know “where we are” spiritually. There is a strain of New Testament teaching which has been developed by the church down the centuries about the importance of taking time for reflection, that is reflecting on what is happening in our lives.
There is however a danger here, especially for us notoriously pessimistic Scots, that reflection turns into nothing more than morbid introspection. What I mean by that is that we spend the whole time thinking about how we have failed, where we have sinned and how much we are falling short of what God wants of us. This kind of introspection will kill our spiritual growth and cause us to give up in discouragement.
At the moment as Mosaic Edinburgh we are looking for “tools” to help us develop as disciples and develop disciples. What I would like to do is invite you to join me in a week’s experiment with a tool for “reflection” which helps us avoid falling into the kind of morbid introspection I was just describing. This called the “Ignation Examen” for reasons you’ll discover below, but it doesn’t really matter what’s its called. What I like about this tool is that it certainly helps us ask ourselves the difficult questions we need to but it also helps us see what God is doing in and through our lives and what there is to be grateful for.
I have outlined how to use this “tool” below and would encourage you to try it with me for a week and then on Sunday as part of what we will do at our Gathering, lets share what God has been teaching us during the week and whether this is something we should add to our “discipleship toolbox”
<!THE IGNATION EXAMEN
About the Prayer of Examen
The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise typically credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola who encouraged fellow followers to engage in the practice for developing a deeper level of spiritual sensitivity and for recognising and receiving the assistance of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the practice is increasingly becoming aware of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout your day
Practicing the Prayer of Examen
This Prayer of Examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions [presence, gratitude, review, and response], to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel the freedom to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task
For this practice
A comfortable and relatively quiet location is likely most conducive for reflecting
The experience doesn’t need to be a certain length — as little as ten minutes could be sufficient, and you could spend more time on certain portions compared to others
It might be helpful to journal your thoughts and recollections or to write out what you notice during your times of prayer
Consider sharing your experiences: allow encouragement and insight from others to influence you and cheer you on, and when appropriate give together striving to be an ever faithful “community of solitudes”
Begin this practice by recognising the presence of God. Remind yourself of God’s presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God’s presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a simple phrase during this time, like “Be still and know that I am God” [Psalm 46v10].
It’s important to begin this practice in a calm and centred state. There may be days when you’ll need the entire time to remember and focus on the nearness of God. Here is an example of a prayer you could use:
“Gracious God, in these moments please remind me of your presence and generosity, and give me the wisdom and courage to live gracefully with myself, others, and the world you have wonderfully made. For the sake of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Amen.”
Take some time and focus on the nearness of God. Open yourself to His presence.
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” [Psalm 145v18]
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you .” [Psalm 145v910]
“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’: wrote Meister Eckhart, “that would suffice.”
Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit centre on the goodness and generosity of God. If you’re using a journal, consider capturing your thanks in writing, expressing words of gratitude and giving testimony to God’s generosity and faithfulness. Find encouragement and reminders of God’s goodness, and be thankful
Looking back over the past 24 hours,
What am I most thankful for?
What was the best part of my day?
What events of relationships encouraged me?
When did I feel most energised?
When did I feel the presence of God most tangibly?
When did I love?
What drew me closer to God?
“Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” [Ephesians 1v3]
Overpacked lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. “Where did the time go?!” we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God’s activity in our lives.
Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalising, the intent is to observe and remember. Allow your mind to wander the situations you’ve been in and to notice details. The questions in this exercise should help you bring specific experiences to mind.
Over the last 24 hours
What am I least thankful for?
When did I feel most dissatisfied or restricted?
What is keeping me awake at night?
What anxiety or fear pops into my head most often?
What do I miss right now?
What has made me feel alone or isolated?
What has caught me off from God?
When have I failed?
“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul…Teach me t o do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” [Psalm 143v8b,10]
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you’ve remembered as a part of this exercise.
You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward. Allow your observations to guide your responses
. Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
. What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
“Ever-present Father, help me to meet you in the Scriptures I read and the prayers I say; in the bread I break and the meals I share; in my investments at work and my enjoyments at play; and in the neighbours and family I welcome, love, and serve, for your sake and that your love and peace may reign now and forever. Amen.”
“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” [Hebrews 13v20-21]