Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ignatian Examen - It is Called a Discipline for a Reason

"Recall that you are in the presence of God."

This is the first line of the Examen prayer that I am using this Lent as a spritual discipline. (In fact, I'm inviting the whole congregation to participate.) The Examen is a structured time of prayer and reflection with five or six specific steps to go through at the end of each day. It takes maybe 10 - 20 minutes, depending on how deep I go.

But having done it every night for the past couple of weeks, I have realized a pretty cool thing. During the day, in the "heat of the moment" as it were, I just have to say that first line, "Recall that you are in the presence of God," and suddenly there is clarity and breathing space in a way that there wasn't before.

When something happens that is upsetting, "Recall that you are in the presence of God" calms me down so that I can respond more appropriately.

When my to-do list threatens to overwhelm, "Recall that you are in the presence of God" helps me prioritize my day, moment by moment.

When my latent perfectionism freezes me into unmotivated hebetude, "Recall that you are in the presence of God" liberates me to fail gloriously without fear.

And so forth.

I think that's one of the reasons that a spiritual practice needs to be a "discipline" - so that it becomes ingrained, habitual, so much a part of me that just thinking the first line allows me to sense a bit of what I sense when I do the full thing each evening. To borrow from our Buddhist friends, I am able to get into a state of mindfulness very quickly. Just uttering the first line calms me down, heightens my awareness of the present presence of God, and gives me room to breathe.

It's the same thing with music, too. The first couple licks of "You Got to Funkafize" by Tower of Power are all I need to hear for me to get taken to another place. When I hear the opening of U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," I'm awakened immediately. The thunderous opening of the Dies Irae movement in Verdi's "Requiem" catapult me to a different dimension instantly. It's because I am so intimately familiar with these pieces that just hearing one small part of them elicits my response to the whole.

So it is with a spiritual discipline. With the repetition comes familiarity, and a more immediate access to the fullness of the practice. All of which, of course, is intended to draw us ever closer to God, and to becoming the people God desires that we become.


Brad said...

Same thing happens to me with "I am no longer my own, but thine." And "You've got to funkifize" too.

Good post.

Anonymous said...


I understand what you're saying - especially because you make us do this in every staff meeting - but I would be careful in the way that you describe practicing this (or any discipline). You almost make it sound too easy, even though you say it's difficult. I would hate for someone to be practicing this descipline, come to a difficult place, and then think that thay're a failure because it didn't come as easy to them as you make it sound.

I don't disagree with you, but would caution how you express you experiences with God.

Good post, dude.


Andy B. said...

That's a good point, agl. Just because this particular discipline has been helpful for me is no guarantee that it will work for everyone. Plus, I don't mean to leave the impression that it is easy - rather, that as I have repeated the practice multiple times, it has become familiar to me in a powerful, meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that it has. The times that I've actually sat and intentionally practiced it (outside of staff or worship) have been quite meaningful as well.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, and "making" us practice this discipline.