Christmas is just one week away, and things just seem to be speeding up. As our liturgical, or religious traditions compete with the more secular, cultural traditions, it gets more and more difficult to keep the spirit of Advent. And I get it, trust me. I’m more “cloistered" than most people. I stay at home most of the time. We don’t know many people around here yet, so there are no Christmas parties to go to. My kid isn’t in school yet, so none of that kind of activity either. Even so, we are already looking ahead to travel plans, and family activities, and all that entails.
So I wonder if you’re willing to take a moment with me, even if you’re currently wrapping presents or driving to Target for the umpteenth time, to just sit and ponder. Let’s stay in Advent for just a while longer before we move onto Christmas.
In this very short series, I have tried to bring attention to a little bit of the pain in the world. I did this for a couple of reasons— 1) So that we would have a chance to practice seeing what God came to save us from, and what he is currently saving us from, and what he will come back to save us from. It’s like an eternal moment of extreme sorrow that is in process of being made right. God sees it this way all the time (well, I mean, this is how I imagine it—I’m sure it’s much more than this, and also very different), but I mean to say that the way we see things is not the way God sees things. We are so little and so short-sighted in comparison. Think about the difference between you and a two year old child. What do they do when they want something, or something is hurting them. It’s like the whole world is ending this very moment IF IT DOES NOT CHANGE NOW! We, thankfully, have a little better grasp on time. We have the knowledge and a little wisdom to know that things take time. Well, blow that up times a million billion, and maybe that begins to help us understand how God sees things so differently than us.
That was a bit of a tangent, but the point is that there is pain in the world and God sees it and is doing something about it.
And, 2) So we could practice seeing how we can help God do this work. He’s always inviting us in to his plan. It’s alway about communion, community, fellowship.
I think that when we practice seeing things this way, it breeds hope in our hearts. If we are aware that God is in on all this, that he is working on it, and that we are part of his plan to work on it, then it gives us a sense of action. Something is happening. We are waiting, but we are waiting expectantly.
But...What do you do when you feel like you are the one waiting for justice? What if you are going through suffering that you cannot see the end of and are feeling hopeless? What if we can’t begin to think about helping others because what we are going through is all-consuming?
If this is how you feel, then first of all, I want to tell you that you are seen, and you are loved. Deeply loved. God sees you. He knows you. He knows exactly what you are going through, and he is in it with you. I know it doesn’t always feel like it. Maybe you haven’t felt his presence in a long time. I know what this is like—I’ve been through that. Trust me, and take my word for it—He is with you, especially when you don’t feel it. Ok?
I could go on for hours about this. This topic is what I did my final project on for graduate school, and I will definitely go into this in more detail in the near future. In fact, I’m creating a whole online course on it. But for now, let’s do something practical. You know I’m all about what’s practical.
What can you do right now, if you are waiting for justice for yourself? There are a whole variety fo things, but in the spirit of this series, I am going to lead you through a prayer. This time, a prayer of Examen.
The Examen prayer, or Examination of Conscience is a type of meditative, contemplative prayer that is mostly widely known to be a part of the Ignatian tradition, but it’s probably much older than that. Basically, it’s a series of questions, or steps, that you go through at the end of the day, or a couple times throughout your day, that help you see where God has been present with you. Sometimes it’s easier for us to see where God was, than where he is.
There are five steps: Gratitude, Awareness, Review, Forgiveness, and Grace. Depending on who is leading or teaching it, these steps vary a little, but the main points are that you practice gratitude, ask for God’s light to shine into your memories of the day, ask him where you could have done better, and then ask for forgiveness and grace to do better.
So, I am going to lead us through a prayer of Examen. I will say that doing this once is good, but practicing it nightly is better. Seeing God working in our life is hard. Seeing how we need to change, or how we have changed is hard. But this type of prayer can help us see a progression simply by paying attention to everyday things that happen on a regular basis.
Also—a note on remembering sins. When you do this remember that God looks at you in love. If you are trying to do better, then he is so gentle with you. Jesus condemned the people who knew better, and could do better, but didn’t even try, but he was very, very gentle with those who messed up but were trying to change, or those who didn’t know any better! Sometimes I do things that I know are wrong, or I don’t do things that I know I should do, but all it takes is confession to a loving and gentle father, and I am forgiven. This is not about beating yourself up, but about feeling the grace that is freely offered to you right now. That is why we ask for God’s light to shine on our day and in our memories. We don’t want to look back on our own, with only our own point of view, but we look at the day together with God. It is a dialogue with God about how this day went. Let him tell you what he thought about it and what he thinks about you. You might be surprised by what you hear!
Ok, let’s begin.
+In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…
Acknowledge God’s presence with you wherever you are. Even if you can’t feel him, he is there. St. Catherine said like a fish that doesn’t know it’s swimming in water. That’s how close God is to us.
Tell him what you are grateful for.
Dorothy Day wrote to "thank God for favors."
What has brought you joy today?
What little thing delighted you?
Ask God for grace to see clearly. Dorothy Day wrote “beg for light."
Ask that God would help you see yourself as he sees you.
Ask that you would be able to see your sin so that you can be rid of it.
Using your imagination and memory, take a walk through your day with God.
What made you happy? Sad?
What was your greatest joy?
What was your deepest sorrow?
What stressed you out?
What was confusing or worrisome?
What caused you to love more?
Ask God to bring to mind sins of thought, word, or deed. Things that you did that you shouldn’t have, and things that you didn’t do, but should have.
Ask for grace to amend them.
Ask for grace to go on and not sin in that way again.
Resolve to do rightly.
Trust that God forgives you.
At this point, I like to circle back around and thank God for his forgiveness and his grace. You might want to think ahead to tomorrow, asking God to be with you then, in whatever activities you have planned, whatever worries you have about tomorrow. Just go ahead and acknowledge that he will be with you then, as he is with you right now.
Let’s go ahead and close with the Lord’s Prayer…
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
[For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.]
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Music by Asher Graieg-Morrison.