So how’s it going in your life? Are you simply getting through the week or trying to keep your head above water? Heard from God lately?
How’s it going in your ministry? What’s your conversation with others in your church like? Is everyone “tending to business as usual,” or struggling to keep the ship afloat? Heard from God lately?
In her book, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully through the Hours of the Day, Sister Macrina Wiederkehr describes her “examen of consciousness” (think of it as a prayerful review) as a means of reflecting on what happened, and seeing God’s presence—and call—in the nitty gritty of daily life. In her daily reflection, she asks these questions:
Have we been a good memory in anyone’s life today?
Have the ears of our heart opened to the voice of God?
Have the ears of our heart opened to the needs of my sisters and brothers?
Have the eyes of our heart beheld the divine face in all created things?
What do we know, but live as though we do not know?
Have we been a good student of the hours today?
How have we affected the quality of the day?
Have we been blind or deaf to the blessings of the day?
Is there anyone, including ourselves, whom we need to forgive?
When did we experience our heart opening wide today?
Have we worked with joy or drudgery?
Have we waited with grace or impatience?
What is the one thing in our lives that is standing on its tiptoe crying, “May I have your attention please?” What needs our attention?
Perhaps the only reference that needs explanation (for non-Catholics like me) is her question about “the hours” of the day. It’s pretty simple, and it’s woven into the subtitle of the book: she is working with the ancient practice of the church to set aside seven appointed times through the day for prayer. In this book, Sister Macrina adapts the traditional cycles of prayer with thoughtful themes to focus our prayer, and she offers a variety of resources to reinvigorate this ancient practice. The examen above is one of those.
The obvious application of her examen is in one’s individual life; I’m intrigued by the possibility of using these personally. (I’m writing this shortly after running across this, and haven’t had time to implement the practice.) But what excites me even more is the possibility of using questions like these in corporate settings.
The questions could be used with very minor adaptations in a small prayer or Bible study group. They could also be used in a devotional time at the beginning of council, board, or committee meetings as a way of developing relationships among participants, and as a way of training people to listen and watch for God’s presence in their personal lives.
With additional adaptation, questions like these could be used during or at the end of a council, board or committee meeting to look for the Spirit’s activity in the work of the group. Questions like, Have we been a good memory in anyone’s life today? could be adapted to What have we done tonight that will make someone’s life better? Have the eyes of our heart beheld the divine face in all created things? could become Have the eyes of our heart beheld the divine face in our work? Instead of asking, Have we been a good student of the hours today? we could ask, Have we ceased our work periodically to listen for God’s voice? Other questions, like Have we worked with joy or drudgery? could be used without adaptation.
Certainly, questions like these could at first sound foreign to the work of church governance groups. When we focus solely on “doing the business” of the church, these questions could even be perceived as an intrusion. But introduced slowly and with care, questions like these could begin to open us to the Spirit’s presence and activity, both in our individual lives and in our corporate lives. Questions like these could powerfully shape our lives and our work, opening us to possibilities that we might not see otherwise.
And for the really daring congregational leader: What if questions like these were used to evaluate staff members or the work of groups in a church? Instead of asking, How many hospital visits did you make this month? imagine what the conversation would be like if we asked, Have you been a good memory in anyone’s life lately? or What is the one thing in your life that is standing on its tiptoe crying, “May I have your attention please?”
Note: Leaders seeking to introduce an period of examen in a business meeting would be wise not to use all of the questions at once, but rather to pick one or a few that seem most appropriate to the moment and the work being done. Over time a list of questions could be made available to the group, and participants could be encouraged to bring one or more of the questions to the group’s attention as they are moved by the Spirit to do so.
Oh, and you may or may not want to encourage people to name this activity as “Doing the Macrina.” <wink>
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