35 – Examen – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

A few months ago it seemed every book I picked up for weeks had a chapter on the Prayer of Examen or at least several pages describing it.  From “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” by James Martin, S.J. to “Connecting Like Jesus: Practices for Healing, Teaching, and Preaching” by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling, authors from many perspectives and theological traditions were encouraging the daily practice of this prayer.

Martin, as most others, encourages one to prayer the Examen at the end of the day and gives the following form (p 97):

“Before you begin, as in all prayer, remind yourself that you’re in God’s presence, and ask God to help you with your prayer.

“Gratitude:  Recall anything from the day for which you are especially grateful, and give thanks.

“Review: Recall the events of the day, from start to finish, noticing where you felt God’s presence, and where you accepted or turned away from any invitations to grow in love.

“Sorrow: Recall any actions for which you are sorry.

“Forgiveness: Ask for God’s forgiveness.  Decide whether you want to reconcile with anyone you have hurt.

“Grace: Ask God for the grace you need for the next day and an ability to see God’s presence more clearly.”

Would this be a worthwhile way to end the day?  What would practicing the Examen do for the end your day and the start of the next day?

 

34 – Centering Prayer – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Can it be prayer if “We do not give God information about all our needs, projects, ideas, programs,  plans and agenda.  We don’t suggest things we would like Him to do.”?  (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook”, p 208)  If you grew up in a religious culture similar to mine, prayer was always equated with words, with speech.  Whether it was silent or spoken it was still a form of speech.  Centering prayer offers a person a way to begin to move beyond speech to sitting in the presence of God.  With our full intention, we sit in the presence of God giving him our undivided love and attention.

Centering prayer offers a number of simple guidelines for this practice.  The following guidelines are taken from a brochure you can fine online at

http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/private/32977/field-file/cp-english.pdf

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes

It is most often suggested that one practice Centering Prayer for twenty minutes twice a day.  Other than this being virtually a “wordless” prayer, the time suggested gets the most reaction from those encountering it the first time.

If this prayer draws you, you may want to consider doing it for a week or month before you decide if the form fits you.  While we all need to find a place of silence in our lives, I will not claim that Centering Prayer will be the way to silence for everyone.

You can find more information on Centering Prayer in a number of books by Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, and at the website http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org.

33 – Jesus Prayer – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

While the Jesus Prayer can be considered a form of breath prayer, it is a much used and deceptively simple practice that deserves our attention.

Frist, the words are simple and might take one of several forms,

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

“Lord Jesus, have mercy.”

Second, the practice is to repeat the words again, and again.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (p. 206) quotes from the description of the Jesus Prayer found in “The Way of a Pilgrim.”

“Take a seat in solitude and silence.  Bend your head, close your eyes and breathing softly, in your imagination, look into your own heart.  Let your mind, or rather, your thoughts flow from your head down to your heart and say, while breathing: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  Whisper these words gently or say them in your mind.  Discard all other thoughts.  Be serene, persevering and repeat them over and over again.”

This description describes the beginning of the Jesus Prayer.  It is not meant to end after a 5 or 10 or 30 minute period of seating quietly with the prayer.  The prayer comes back to us again and again though out the day forming a “background” to our daily activities.  The practice of the Jesus Prayer is a step toward the scriptural encouragement to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

What do you think?  Want to give it a try today? And when you do, be open to the prayer coming back to your awareness thoughout the day.

 

32 – Breath Prayer – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Breathing is not only the most natural thing to do, it sustains life.  Breath prayer for many is a prime sustainer of life.

In breath prayer we repeat a short, repetitive prayer phrase to the rhythm of our breathing.  As we breathe in we repeat the first words or phrase of the prayer; then as we breathe out we repeat the second phrase of the prayer.  Typical phrases used in breath prayer are –

Breath of life; breath on me

O Lord; baptize me with love

Father; teach me gentleness

Lord Jesus Christ; have mercy on me

 In the examples above the first phrase is a name or image of God and serves to remind us that we are in God’s presence and is said as we breathe in.  The second phrase expresses a God-given desire and is said as we exhale, releasing not only our breath but the words of the prayer to God.  As we repeatably breathe, so we repeat the prayer again and again.

Why not give yourself five minutes sometime today to try the breath prayer.  First, select one of the phrases above or a similar phrase.  Next, sit comfortably and begin to notice your breathing.  Then, as you are ready, start repeating the prayer to the rhythm of your breathing.  Maybe you will want to come back to the pattern at different times during the day.

You can find more on the breath prayer in the following –

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun) pp 204-206

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (by Richard Foster) pp 122-124

Soul Feast (by Marjorie J Thompson) pp 48-49

Companions in Christ (by Gerritt Scott Dawson, et al) pp 296-297

Exploring the Way (by Marjoirie J Thompson) p 46.

31 – Simple Prayer – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

The first chapter of Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home is entitled “Simple Prayer.”  He writes,

” … we are brought to the most basic, the most primary form of prayer: Simple Prayer … we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all.  Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out … We simply and unpretentiously share out concerns and make our petitions.” (p 9)

The first time I looked into this book I was surprised by to find this as the  first chapter. Maybe I was looking for something more spiritual, more profound, dare I say deeper.  That may be even more the reason I need to hear how truly deep simple prayer is.  It does after all arise from our heart of hearts; our deepest desires, hopes and fears.

Simple prayer is honest and real.  And it is who we are.

There is principle of prayer I have heard many times and it rings more and more true, “Pray as you can, not as you cannot.”

 

30 – Prayer – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Over the next several weeks I would like us to think together about the different forms our prayers can take.  But before we look at different prayer practices, I would ask us to keep in mind two things.

First, keep in mind the words of Robert Mulholldand we have shared over the past three weeks.  He has reminded us that silence, solitude and prayer are not to seen just as spiritual practices along side other practices but form “the inner dynamics of how we engage in the disciplines, the deep inner posture of being we bring to the disciplines”  (Robert Mullholland, Invitation to a Journey, p 136).

Second, even while we speak of the “discipline of prayer” we must never reduce prayer to mere discipline, rules or obligation.  Flora Slosson Wuellner writes,

“The most direct response to [God’s love], the widest door we can open, is through the relationship we call prayer.  For it is a relationship and not primarily a discipline. Most of our problems with prayer arise from our tendency to turn spiritual growing into a set of laws or a gymnastic exercise….  It is best to have some deliberate opening each day, but we need not be troubled if the form or expression change.  That is as it should be.  God’s love is a growing personal relatedness in which we are loved and challenged to love without limit.”  (From Exploring the Way: An Introduction to the Spiritual Journey by Marjorie J. Thompson, p 41)

We must not let the “practice” become more important than the relationship.  The “form” to so take our attention that we seek perfection of the “form” and fail to seek God.

At the same time, Wuellner and others tell us we should be “deliberate” in opening ourselves to God.

That will be our challenge –  To find what in our life deliberately opens us to God’s relationship to us without mistaking that thing for the relationship itself.

29 – Prayer – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Robert Mulholland speaks of prayer as the third “inner dynamic of our disciplines.”

“Prayer … becomes the offering of who we are to God: the giving of that broken, grasping, manipulative self to God for the work of God’s grace in our lives.  This is a yearning, hungering, wrestling prayer that enters into the painful struggle between what we are and the crucifying desire to become what God wants us to be.  This kind of prayer struggles with what we have been with others and hungers to be what God intends us to be for them.  This kind of prayer agonizes with what we have allowed others to be in our lives and yearns to allow others to be what God means for them to be for us.”

From Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M Robert Mulholland Jr, p 140.

28 – Solitude – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Robert Mulholland calls silence the first “inner dynamic of our disciplines” and he calls solitude the second.

“We tend to think of solitude as simply being alone…. however, solitude is, in the silence of release, beginning to face the deep inner dynamics of our being that make us that grasping, controlling, manipulative person; beginning to face our brokenness, our distortion, our darkness; and beginning to offer ourselves to God at those points.  This is part of solitude.  But more than this, it is being who we are with God and acknowledging who we are to ourselves and to God.”

From Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M Robert Mulholland Jr, p 138.

27 – Silence – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Do you know what silence is?  Consider Robert Mulholland’s suggestion –

“We tend to think of silence as simply being still…. The practice of silence is the radical reversal of our cultural tendencies.  Silence is bringing ourselves to the point of relinquishing to God our control of our relationship with God.  Silence is a reversal of the whole processing, controlling, grasping dynamic of trying to maintain control of our own existence.  Silence is the inner act of letting go.”

From Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M Robert Mulholland Jr, pp 136-137.

26 – Worship – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

” … unto you is born this day … Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:11

This past Sunday evening our choir’s Christmas cantata ended with the word “joy.”  No, it is more accurate to say it ended with the shout, “JOY!” A shout that echoed through the auditorium and through each person.  That lead me to wonder what are the spiritual disciplines that Advent and Christmas call forth in us.  That evening I could think of no better response, no better practice, than worship.

I offer today a much repeated quote from William Temple that suggests the inherent power of worship,

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.  It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness,  Nourishment of mind by His truth,  Purifying of imagination by His beauty,  Opening of the heart to His love,  And submission of will to his purpose.  And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”