Advent Reflections: Examen
Dear Kaleid Women,
Last week, we practiced reflecting on the presence of God in the midst of the ordinary – sleeping, eating, and the outdoors. Given the rain in Atlanta over the last few days, we hope that more than one raindrop reminded you of the showers of God’s blessing (and that you had a sturdy and large umbrella!)
This week, we’re sharing a time-honored practice of reflection called the Prayer of Examen. But first, some thoughts on stability…and stables.
Luke 2:6-7 “While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.”
No doubt you’ve heard more than one sermon about the location of Jesus’ birth being more fit for messy cows than for tiny, beautiful humans (especially divine ones.) And no doubt, you’ve looked at the interior mess in your own heart more than once in the last few days and thought something like, “This is pure chaos!” Maybe it was the frustration when you forgot to take the donuts for your child’s party (present author guilt happening now), maybe it was the annoyance when you heard that school was delayed, and it messed with your schedule, or maybe it was the sense of disconnection with those closest to you in this fast-paced season.
Hearts are messy. Stables are messy.
Most likely Mary and Joseph did some straightening before they laid Jesus in the manger…maybe adding some fresh hay or at least laying a covering over the rough surface. But He came – He was born into – the roughness of a work-weary, mess-as-normal, full-and-smelly place. Not a far cry from the hearts we carry around. We use our interior spaces, our hearts, to do hard work, to hold mess, and to deal with life’s stinky stuff. And sometimes it needs a good straightening.
There’s a beautiful Psalm that says, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Our hearts can hold messy pain and clear-eyed beauty in the same 24-hour space.
Practicing evening reflection through the Prayer of Examen is a way to take stock of our current state and to welcome the power of divine love into them, even in their disarray. This type of prayer is one that looks back on the day with God and takes stock. “The prayer of examen is an examination of consciousness. It may lead us to confession of sin, but it has a broader focus. It is a detailed reflection on the presence and movement of God in our ordinary lives.”*
It goes like this:
- Become aware of the presence of God. Slow down, breathe, wait for a moment and receive God’s presence.
- Review your day with gratitude. What gifts were in this day?
- Review the day in God’s presence. Take stock of the flow of the day. When did you experience messy emotions? When did you notice God in your day? Receive the gracious presence of God into what you discover and examine.
- Talk to God about it. Bring one of those moments to Him and ask for His help, direction, healing, etc. in it.
- Look ahead to tomorrow. What is coming? Where would you like to be particularly tuned into God’s presence?
When we spend even a few minutes in the evening with this reflective practice, we open up our own hearts – our own messy stables – to the fullness, power, beauty, and incarnational love of Immanuel.
God with us.
*At www.beingdisciples.com, J. William Feffer lays out the prayer of examen in more detail.