Examen Prayer – An Discovery of Deep Desires

The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.

I find the Examen prayer to be a great way of discovering my deepest desires. The Examen prayer is something that has been used in monastic setups for centuries. Recently, With the popularization of Christian spiritual practices among Evangelicals, the Examen prayer has come into vogue. And I am excited! 

The Examen prayer was started by St. Ignatius as a way of examination of consciousness. I am adding a little bit of a twist to the practice in order to frame it as a way of discovering our deep desires which I believe aligns with the spirit of what St. Ignatius was getting at. 

The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.

Prayerfully submit to God and ask for His help in order to spiritually ponder the following questions.
1. When did I feel most loved today?
2. When did I feel least loved today?
3. When was I most aware of God’s presence today?
4. When was I least aware of God’s presence today?
5. What desires for future really captivated me today? Did my desires comport with my love for God and love for neighbor?
Pray for God to strengthen you to face the next day.

This exercise, when done daily over a period of time helps achieved the following
1. Greater self-awareness – just knowing the different influences on your life.
2. Greater sensitivity to God’s presence, in the form of the Spirit of Christ in our lives. The Spirit of Christ is always with us – our awareness of it goes up or down based on what we are paying attention to at a given time. 
3. Discovery of deep desires: This exercise helps us to see how our desires move based on events of the day. For example, a deep desire to quit your job may have strongly moved you during the day. Then, at the end of the day, you do the examen prayer and you will remember that the moment when you felt least loved was when your co-worker was mean. Then you may realize that your desire to quit your job came our of the anxiety of dealing with a mean co-worker. So it may not have been God’s voice speaking to you prodding you to quit. Rather, it may have just been your own anxiety sowing the desire to quit. (Of course, it is possible God is speaking to you through your anxiety… if the trend is consistent over a period of time then it has to be taken seriously). You will discover some desires come up within you when you are in a state of spiritual tranquility* – these are the desires you want to pay attention to. Pay attention to how your desires move when your sensitivities are greatly attuned to God’s presence in you – these are likely to be your deepest desires. For example, for me when I am prayerful the desire to write to bring glory to God and love neighbor is kindled in me. The desires that God has placed in you and the ones which get kindled when your spirit rests tranquilly in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.

As you keep doing the Examen prayer over a period of time. You will begin to notice patters – you will begin to see that when you are anxious your desires move in one way (quitting the job in the example above) then when you are in a state of spiritual rest/consolation your desires moved in a different way (writing to glorify God in the example above). Seeing consistency in these patterns will help you to parse through the desires that arise out of fear or compulsion in order to truly discover what your deepest, God created, desire is.

*Spiritual Tranquility – I will need to do a different post on the topic of spiritual tranquility.

Solar Eclipse, a Glimpse of Tolkienian Humor!

Next time you see the see the Sun and the Moon, hopefully, it will not merely an incandescent ball of fire and a cold crater ridden piece of rock, rather your heart will be drawn to the unrequited love story between the angelic beings, Tilion and Arien. May be, it is not as unrequited as I make it to be, thanks to the eclipses!  And the brilliance of Illuvathar’s creation… pointing back to the brilliance of God’s handiwork.

Today’s Solar Eclipse gives an opportunity to talk about Tolkien’s romantic sly sense of Humor. As I was looking at the (partial) Solar eclipse at Houston with some friends from work, I remembered that Tolkien, in his creation mythology in the Silmarillion, has an intriguing story about the creation of the Sun and the Moon.

When Illuvathar, God, sang the world into creation, in the first go, the earth was lit by light of the stars and the white trees of Valinor (Paradise). After the loss of that light, the Sun and the Moon were created. Sun is a female Valar, an angelic being, Arien. The Moon is male angelic being Tilion. Arien and Tilion are in charge of steering the sun and the moon. The Sun was meant the govern Earth’s day light, moon the night.

Tolkien says that Tilion is an unsteady hand steering the Moon, often in incorrect paths, thus ending up on the same side along the Sun. The idea being that Tilion can’t help steering recklessly towards the Sun, being love sick about Arien. This is the romantic in Tolkien. In order to explain the Moon showing up during the day, he comes up with a romantic solution that is humorous in the Tolkienian sense.

I don’t know if Tolkien develops this theme further into what Solar and Lunar eclipses mean, in the mythology, as to the relationship between Tilion and Arien. But that is very Tolkienis thing to do – develop some intriguing possibilities and leaving the rest for imagination!

Next time you see the see the Sun and the Moon, hopefully, it will not merely an incandescent ball of fire and a cold crater ridden piece of rock, rather your heart will be drawn to the mythic ballet of unrequited love between the angelic beings, Tilion and Arien. May be, it is not as unrequited as I make it to be, thanks to the eclipses!  And the brilliance of Illuvathar’s creation… pointing back to the brilliance of God’s handiwork. All this to say this is Tolkien’s humorous way of adding a little bit more mythic meaning to our otherwise dreary existence on planet Earth!

The Art of Mindful Emotions

Part of the reason why political discourse is so broken in Universities and the society at large is because people tend to blame the other people for the unpleasant emotions that others trigger in them. When our emotions get triggered by something that is happening we have to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I do well to get triggered?” 

This Monday, we were discussing Jonah 4. Jonah 4:4 “Do you do well to be angry?” (ESV) stood out to me. It seemed to me that God was, in this ESV translation, phrasing the question from the point of view of Person-Centered Therapy (PCT). God’s approach is a very patient way of dialogue than a critical way of judging. God-like, in this case, the PCT therapist will attempt to try to look at the problem from the point of view of the client and try to ask questions that places the agency on the client.

Angering is a Verb:

Often when I think someone is making me angry, I think that the problem is with the other person. A PCT therapist will tell me that I am not angry at someone bur rather that I am allowing myself to angry or I am angering. The PCT phrasing, of making angering into a verb, puts the agency/responsibility for being angry on me. In many ways, God is doing this with Jonah.

God, in asking Jonah to prophesy destruction of Nineveh and then deciding to have mercy, changed the rules of the game on Jonah. Then, Jonah’s prophetic career was on line. One may be able to empathize with Jonah for being angry at God. But God helps Jonah see that he alone was responsible or how he was feeling and asks Jonah if that is what he really wants.

Anger vs Empathy:

Anger and empathy do not go together. When one is angry one cannot empathize with others. Jonah was angry that his prophetic reputation was at stake because God changed he rules of the game. In that anger he couldn’t empathize with the Ninevites. He couldn’t see that in his reputation being at stake, as in the failure of his prophetic word, meant that a whole city of over a 100 thousand people were being saved. His anger blinded his ability for empathy.

Mindful Emotions:

No amount of reasoning about saving people would have moved Jonah as long as he was stuck angry. So God had to first of all ask him to pay attention to his anger and question if his allowing himself to get angry helps at all. The point of God’s question was to get Jonah to be more mindful about his emotions and its broader impact. Only after increased mindfulness does God go on to talk about His heart and mercy for the Ninevites.

This lesson of being mindful of our emotions as a way of raising our ability to listen and be empathic is critical for personal relationships and for communal cohesiveness. Part of the reason why political discourse is so broken in Universities and the society at large is because people think it is ok blame others for the unpleasant emotions that others trigger in them. When our emotions get triggered by something that is happening we have to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I do well to get triggered?”

Someone may ask, isn’t there a rightful place for righteous anger. Yes, there is, but not when the need of the hour is more thoughtfulness, deliberation and listening. If you see someone abusing/hurting a weak person, then that is a place to allow one’s adrenaline and indignation to fuel an act in defense of the weak. Here is where the art of mindful emotions comes. Wisdom is in knowing when to allow one’s emotions rush into action and when to step back to listen. My sense is this – more than ever our society needs God-like thoughtful empathic dialoguers, than Jonah-like quick-triggered volatile reactionaries, both on the alt-Right and the violent-Left!

The Best Day of My Life Yet!

Over the past few months, as I have been praying, meditating, talking with folks about ordination the phrase that God formulated in me, spiritually speaking is, to be ordained is to rest in the love of God and invite people to experience the love of Christ. This is the “why” that I have been looking for. This is the ax that will sharpen my spear. This is the anchor that will prevent me from being buffeted by the relentless waves of evanescent fascinations. This is what Keirkegaard talks about when he says, “purity of heart is to will one thing.” 

I feel like I almost had an ontological change today! Perhaps not as dramatic as a pupa becoming a butterfly but a change to(ward) a new Identity. An identity that I find profoundly freeing.  Let me un-dramatize things a bit. Today, the Session of First Presbyterian Church heard my vision/call and voted unanimously (I am told) to recommend to be ordained as a Pastor under ECO. I still need to go through a long process with ECO to be ordained, but this vote of confidence gets the process started. I have a long road towards becoming ordained. I do not want to count the chicken before the eggs hatch. However, I want to take this special moment in my life and stake stock of the adventure that the good Lord has been taking me on.

3 years ago, in the Fall of 2014, after working for 10 years in Software development, mostly project management, I quit my job and went full time to the seminary following my call into a life of ministry of loving God and neighbor. It was a step out of safety into a new adventure. I did not know how the adventure was doing to turn out. By the grace of God, I graduated with a M.Div. magna cum laude, but the journey was not quite complete then. I still was not sure what kind of twists and turns the adventure is going to take. 

An important step in the adventure is the return back to the full time work life. After spending months in prayerful discernment, I finally landed at First Presbyterian Church (FPC) as a Church Planting Pioneer. Thanks be to God! 

 

Today is the best day of my life because, today, I was shepherded into the first steps of the final leg of the journey – to be ordained a reverend! It happened at the Session of the Pastors and Ruling Elders of meeting at FPC. The session spent a few minutes hearing my call to ministry and then voted to place me “under care” in order to be ordained through ECO. 

Question: Why does this event make today the best day of my life yet?

To appreciate why the beginning of the journey to ordination is the best days of my life one has to first understand the problem of my life… the problem of my life is that on a given day when I wake up in the morning I think I will to become a writer… when I am sipping coffee at Starbucks, feeling the heart tug of some vague tune of Pink Floyd coming over the speakers, I think I could try my hand at music… (in fact I bought a key board that I haven’t touched in months!) then when I see Netflix on my wind down to go to bed, taking notes on what was great on a given scene, or, what went wrong, I think perhaps I should try my hand at the movie business, really!  

This vacillation is the typical millennial problem of not committing to anything while being intrigued by too many fascinations. A typical millennial life with too many interests is more like a broom that just cleans up after people who have cut their teeth doing something well. A spear that does not come down to a point has no target to hit. The problem with being swayed by the vagaries of my momentary enchantments is not that my interests are too widely spread out, but rather I do not quite have a “why” around which to galvanize my resolute pursuits.

Over the past few months, as I have been praying, meditating, talking with folks about ordination the phrase that God formulated in me, spiritually speaking is, to be ordained is to rest in the love of God and invite people to experience the love of Christ. This is the “why” that I have been looking for. This is the iron that will sharpen my spear. This is the anchor that will prevent me from being buffeted by the relentless waves of my evanescent fascinations. This is what Keirkegaard talks about when he says, “purity of heart is to will one thing.” Thus I am freed from the tyranny of too many traumatizing options to choose from.

This apprehension of the inner “why” will fuel my activities, whether it be writing about the love of God or listening to hurt-angry people or preaching Christ. There is a deep freedom in knowing the “why” towards which my activities need to be directed as against being cursed with the tyranny of choice, having to choose from a plethora of options that entices my fancy. 

Today is the best day of my life yet because I am beginning to see the new identity crack open from the cocoon. A meandering larva becomes a pupa stuck in a cocoon, dormant. Then only when it ontologically changes to a butterfly that it comes fully to itself, knowing the “why” of its being – to spread its wings out and fly! My time in the world of software was one of meandering through many different interesting terrains… my time at the seminary was like the pupa that was incubating by without much movement, at times frustrating. Now the cocoon has begun cracking up and I am slowly emerging, out spreading out my wings and realizing that the whole point of my life – everything that has happened, everything I have endured, everything that has enchanted me had one end – is to rest in the love of Christ and invite people into experiencing how much Christ loves them! This is what freedom in Christ looks like for me in this phase of my life.

Labyrinthine Renunciation of Frenzied Time

Renunciation of the the desire for compulsive control is going to be a long process of accepting the grace of God. The control monster, deep in my psyche, pulling me into frenzied time zone. Killing the control minotaur is about giving up the compulsive pursuit of immediate happiness in the frenzied time zone to live in the deep time in appreciation of God’s grace, no matter what life throws my way.

In Greek Mythology Theseus slays the Minotaur by braving through to the center of the labyrinth. This monster slaying myth is a timeless because it speaks to fact that everyone had a monster hidden deep in their psyche needing to be destroyed. It is a form of a original sin that needs to be sanctified by the grace of God.  

On the second day of my week long road trip at Alburquerque, NM I got tuned into my own inner monster, anxiety! The prior night I was coming down with cold. I also overslept. I knew I needed to workout in order to get juices flowing in my muscles, some dopamine in my system. That set me later than I had originally planned to leave. I was frustrated with myself because delays prevent me from being able to see all the places I could see on this week long road trip. 

That morning I went to the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s Christian meditation center, Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) at Alburquerque, NM. I wanted to visit his center before heading to the Grand Canyon because Rohr’s work aligns with the theme of journeying deep time for this road trip (explained in my first blog post here). The CAC was closed for lunch when I got there. While waiting at the CAC, browsing on my phone, I realize that I had missed a rare opportunity to take a sun rise hot air balloon tour of Alburqueque because I had miss planned the trip. At this point my latent anxiety was turning to self blame.

I decided to to take a walk at the contemplative labyrinth (picture above). As I was walking through the circles, my mind focused on at the little wood chips that carpeted the ground and the smooth stones creating the circular pathway. In the first few seconds of slowly walking, time slowed down. My gloom had lifted like fog clearing out bringing a rays of golden sun shine. I left the old anxiety ridden world entered a new world. The problem with the old world is that when anxiety increases time speeds up, entrapping the psyche in self-absorption. In the old world the frenzied monkey-mind keeps me thinking about the same thing over and over again, self-blame on an infinite loop; no exit. Walking slowly through the labyrinthine pathway, as time slowed down, my psyche transcended my self incriminating self-absorption stepping into the world of God’s grace. The Labyrinth is a place which helped me get out of my self-blame clearing my mind freeing me up to mediate on the free Grace of God. The rest of the way to the center, I was meditating on the gift of my union with Christ. 

When I got to the center of the labyrinth, I saw something strange. There was a large wooden cross on the ground around which other pilgrims had left some souvenirs. Some had left pennies, others quarters, some beautiful stone jewelry. First I thought, “Wow! How superstitious can people be? Is this a way of getting their prayers or petitions answered? Some form of arm twisting God?” Then as I pondered this more, I realized that the action of the pilgrims could be interpreted as a symbolism for self-renunciation.

When one gets to the center of the labyrinth, one gets to the center of the self. It is the place of the symbolic self.It is the place of the killing of the monster within. It is the place of self denial. Self-renunciation is the starting point of sanctification (Matt 16:24). For me my self-renunciation had to take the form of giving up my attempt to control my schedule. My road-trip-goal in attempting to control my schedule is to maximize the possibility of my happiness by consuming the best experiences, visiting places. In renouncing my compulsive control of my harried plans, I embrace the present in all it strange simplicity, living in deep time by the grace of God in union with Christ.

As a ritual of my own renunciation, I left a quarter at the foot of the cross in the center of the Labyrinth. The process of renunciation of the the desire for compulsive control is going to be a long requiring dependence on the grace of God. The control monster, deep in my psyche, pulls me into frenzied time zone of hyper-productivity where the monkey mind attempts to incriminate me for not being able to get the most productive happiness. Killing the control Minotaur is about giving up the pursuit of happiness in frenzied time in to order live in the contentment of deep time appreciating God’s grace, embracing whatever life throws my way. This road trip is an attempt at getting a taste of what it means to renounce the anxious living in frenzied time by apprehending the present moment in union with Christ, living in deep time. 

Pilgrimage into Deep Time!

Just like Pink Floyd has concept albums. Mine is going to be a concept road trip. The theme for my trip is going to be experiences of deep time, I will keep posting anything I am moved to write about as a result of contemplative excursions into Deep Time! 

The reason why I love Pink Floyd is because their albums are, what is called, concept albums. They pick a concept/theme they want to explore and all the songs in the album are a progressive exploration of that theme. (For example, The Dark Side of the Moon is about man’s unconscious dark side taking over his sanity. A Brick on the Wall is about life experiences becoming a form of isolation from other people.)

Having completed my adventure through my completion of M.Div., looking forward to the next adventure of fostering a community of Christ-like spiritual vitality (aka Church Planting), I wanted to go on a sort of a road trip. Special thanks to one of my best well wishers, Doug and Karen Meikle, who very generously offered me one of their cars for this trip – so that way I did not have to choose between taking a rental car or riding my motorcycle (that latter option would have been disastrous!).

Being a Floydian, I needed a theme for my road trip. Initially, I thought it would be Mountains, Lakes and Trees – the point being that I have never seen the reflection of a huge mountain on a large lake at its foot. I figured I will take a trip to Colorado. As I was thinking about this more, I was listening to the Fransciscan friar, Richard Rohr talk on the podcast On Being. Rohr talked about living in “deep time” – living in deep time is about contemplative living where one is not merely passing time moment by moment but one is aware of the deeper connecting of the dots, when eternity invades the present.

Moment by moment way of living life is a way of attempting to define time as a means of getting what one wants – a rather narcissistic apprehension of time, I might opine. Living in “deep time” is giving up the compulsive control of time as a personal commodity and resting in the union with Christ. (To be fair, I am not sure that Rohr would describe “deep time” the way just did now… I took his terms and defined it the way it makes sense to me. My sense based on the podcast is that Rohr wouldn’t bring in the union with Christ part into this deep time concept.). The essential component of this is to be able to live in time by the way of resting in union with Christ. After all the Spirit of Christ is always with us. It is just that our awareness of His presence in us keeps fluctuating because our inner faculties of apprehending the presence of Christ is often dulled. 

As I was pondering this, I reckoned that Richard Rohr’s contemplative retreat center is in Albuquerque, NM. Just then it occurred to me that perhaps I needed to make this road trip into a pilgrimage of sorts living into deep time. I decided that I will go to Rohr’s retreat center and then to the Grand Canyon… experience its arid beauty the way the Desert Fathers went into the arid desert furnaces as a way of purifying their souls. This purification of their hearts, away from the distractions, they hoped would sensitivities their jades faculties to be present to the presence of the Spirit of Christ. 

 

For me going to the Grand Canyon as pilgrimage of living into Deep Time (in union with Christ) means the following I am not going to allow myself to be bothered by any compulsive need to 1) be productive or 2) fill up my itinerary to the brim or 3) attempt to control my time to consume all experiences I can get when I am here. Instead, I am going to have a contemplative mindset which means 1) I allow myself to rest in the deep union with Christ. 2) I am going to read the writings of Christ-loving monks and meditate on it through the day allowing it to seep into my consciousness. 3) I am going to stop often and take a long loving look at the beautiful creation of God and enjoy His handiwork. 

Just as I have made the list above, I realized that I am already failing on a number of counts there. The human predicament is to keep getting sucked into superficial time of compulsive productivity. I am typing this, sitting at Albuquerque, NM. I am excited to visit Richard Rohr’s contemplative retreat and then making my way to the Grand Canyon.

Just like Pink Floyd has concept albums. Mine is going to be a concept road trip. The theme for my trip is going to a pilgrimage into deep time, I will keep posting anything I am moved to write about as a result of contemplative excursions into Deep Time! 

Disclaimer: I appreciate Father Rohr’s contributions as a incisive critique of modernity and Evangelicalism’s hyper-rationalism. However, I do not espouse with all of Rohr’s theological musings, especially his Christology (which probably is a topic for another post).