As I’ve been journeying through this Easter season, two themes have surfaced: 1) Living out loud (or losing my Christian anonymity); and, 2) meditating on Christ.
My decision to live out loud has driven me to take public stands on things I may have supported more anonomously. Of course, when a person decides she will not be just another nameless face in the crowd, but will step out of the comfort of the masses to speak out loud, there is a lot of nervous anxiety involved. As a minister, I already live my life in a fishbowl, my every move open to speculation and scrutiny. So, when we decide to step into the fray of hot-button and politically-polarizing issues that are not only dividing our country, but our churches, we tend to get upset tummies as we worry how our position will be taken, who will be offended, and who we might lose in our lives because of our stand.
If there is one thing I learned from Jesus, even the Son of God did not escape the scrutiny of others. But Jesus, as it turns out, is the very person who gives us our best weapon against those late-night panic attacks.
What did Jesus do? He slipped away.
He didn’t run away. He didn’t refuse to take those controversial stands. He didn’t abandon the poor, the vulnerable, the suffering… but he did take some time to slip away from all the chaos and spend some one-on-one time with God. He went up on mountains, knelt down in gardens, crossed over lakes, all in search of a quiet place where he could center himself on God and what God intended for him.
I’ve been writing a lot lately about the discovery that the brains of Tibetan monks change with their meditation habits. But Tibetan monks are not the only people on the face of this planet with the discipline to meditate and pray. Jesus showed us just how important prayer was to him by constantly stepping out of the heat of the action and taking a moment to meditate.
The actual act of settling into meditation is only the beginning of prayer. Prayer brings us close to God, reveals that spark of the divine that is in each of us, reminds us that we are indeed created in the image of God, and allows us to know God more intimately. Prayer changes us. It changes our brain and it changes our hearts. It makes us more like God. And when we live more fully into that image of the divine, we begin to act more like our Savior. Prayer opens our souls up to our fullest potential…and once we see what God believes we can do, we can’t just sit still. Ultimately, prayer will lead to action. Prayer changes the world, but first it changes us.
So, today I offer you a method of Christian meditation I have found very useful to me. When I am most nervous, most worried, the Prayer of Examen has long been the best way for me to simply set down and say, “Okay God, this isn’t my will, but Yours… so let me know what to do.”
The Prayer of Examen comes to us from the realms of Ignatian Spirituality. Ignatius of Loyola was the man of old who founded the Jesuit Order. One of the few rules that Ignatius gave to the priests in his order was to pray the Examen twice daily. Once at noon, and then again before bed. The Examen is built on the premise that because we were created in the image of God, to fully know ourselves is a way to more fully know God.
To pray the Examen, simply allow yourself to find a quiet place for reflection and work your way through these five steps, taking as much time as you need at each one:
1) Become aware of God’s presence.
2) Review the day with gratitude: Walk through the day in your memory. Where were you aware of God’s preence? What were the joys and delights you experienced?
Give thanks to God for the good things you have experienced.
3) Pay attention to your emotions: When were you happy? Sad? Angry? Disappointed? Frightened?… etc… What is God saying through these feelings?
4) Choose one feature of the day and pray from it: Ask the Holy Spirit to guide to what God thinks is important. It may be a vivid memory from your day or may be something that seems insignificant.
5) Look toward tomorrow: Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.