The Daily Examen

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The spiritual practice of the daily examen has 16th century origins in Ignatius of Loyola yet offers a framework for prayer that continues to resonate even more than 500 years later.  The focus of the daily examen is on finding God’s presence in your life so that you can be grateful and so that you can listen for His guidance.

There is no designated way to go through the prayer or even length of time needed to complete it; in fact, just 10 minutes should be enough time.  In the approach outlined below, the daily examen is practiced at the end of the day.candlelight

  1. Prepare your heart and mind. Center yourself by lighting a candle or taking a few deep breaths.  Allow yourself to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.  Think back through the events of your day, noting the joys and delights.  Think about the people you interacted with and what you shared with each other.  Don’t forget the little pleasures!  Then, thank God for these experiences.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.  Notice the points in your day where you felt strongly. What is God telling you through your feelings?  Feelings of frustration may indicate that you need to change course on a certain project.  Feelings of worry about a friend’s situation might later prompt you to send a comforting note.
  4. Select a part of your day to pray over.  What one part of your day stands out most to you?  It can be positive or negative.  Lift up a prayer of gratitude, intercession, repentance, whatever the case may be.
  5. Pray for tomorrow.  Ask God to guide you through tomorrow’s challenges.  Turn your anxieties over to God and pray for hope.

A simple prayer card listing the steps of the examen can be found here.  Other approaches to praying the examen can be found at Ignatian Spirituality (from Loyola Press) and Alive Now.

-Katie Huffman

Photo from Pixabay user foulline, via CC.

Living in Gratitude

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The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.

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“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything.”  -Thomas Merton

One of my children recently gave me a book entitled Living-in-Gratitude_imageLiving in Gratitude.  We’re a family of readers and often talk about what we’re reading or what we think the other person might like.  But when I started reading this book I wondered if it was given as a secret message for Mom.  I kept hearing in my head “Are you grateful? Is gratitude part of your life”?  Then I would say back to the voice, “Of course I practice gratitude…..well, I think I do…..well, maybe I don’t all the time…. well how do you practice gratitude anyway?”

The book is a month-to-month guide for the practice of gratitude. The author, Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist, says that “practice is meant to be active, rigorous, and dynamic.  To practice is to take action that supports change and provides a discipline for incorporating and strengthening new values, skills and character qualities.”  I was especially interested in how a practice of gratitude might affect health in particular, since health and well-being are pretty important to most of us.  Our first thought may not be about gratitude as a basic health practice.

Even though it’s July, I started at the beginning of the book with January.  I worried that this was all going to be very shallow like “in January be thankful for a new year—a fresh start.”  Then I realized that the message from my daughter might be: give up on the cynicism for just a bit and read the book.  Right off the bat the author quotes Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya who reminds us to vision and in visioning one must stop, consider, change and correct.

Arriens details this practice, which offers a way to align our vision with our choices.  This makes sense.  I was already feeling a tiny bit grateful for a new tool.  Unfolding in this January chapter are also the concepts of blessings, learnings, mercies and protections:  what they mean and the importance of paying attention to them.   As we identify blessings, learnings, mercies, and protections we have additional tools to develop a framework of intentionality, which as the author states, “helps us enter frequently and joyfully into the life changing state of being which is gratitude.”

Further into the book is another important question that addresses all areas of health and wellness.  Dr. William Stewart, author of Deep Medicine and the medical director of the Institute for Health and Healing at the California Pacific Medical Center, suggests that we ask this question:  Are the choices I am making health enhancing or health negating?  And he’s talking about all realms of health from the spiritual to the financial. Dr. Stewart and many others have demonstrated that health improves or declines according to the choices we make.

Arriens points out that it is well documented that the daily practice of gratitude increases health and well being.  Genuine expressions of gratitude reduce stress, develop positive attitudes and performance, strengthen the immune system and increase our experience of joy and happiness.

This book encourages gratitude through reflection, questioning, action and practice.  It recognizes the importance of research and intellectualism but then goes to the deeper meaning found only in the heart. I’m only up to March but I’m beginning to think that Living in Gratitude might just change the way I think about wellness.

(Book cover image from KPCRadio.com)

Lisa-MacKenzie-90x120-Lisa MacKenzie

Walking Together

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I had the opportunity recently to walk two different labyrinths. It had been a number of years since I’d walked one, and walking two nearly back to back was a refreshing and grounding experience.

We’ve written before on this blog about labyrinths as a form of contemplative Labyrinth_1_(from_Nordisk_familjebok) (1)prayer, and I’d encourage you to read that post for more information on labyrinths’ origins and modern use. I personally love labyrinths for the way they tie me to ancient spiritual practice. Labyrinths are found in Greek and Roman mythology, and came into wide use in Christian tradition in the Middle Ages, but they also have been discovered to have their place in ancient Nepalese, Indian, Native North and South American, and Australian cultures. The sense that this pattern and practice is meaningful across time and different religious traditions is very powerful for me — like all liturgy, it is a gift to participate in something that transcends my particular time and place. I also love that the path is laid out clearly before me, with no dead ends or choices to make (so UN-like life!) which allows me to sink into a deeper level of mediation and prayer. Avila

I experienced the first labyrinth during a women’s retreat at Avila, a retreat center in North Durham (for those of you who are local!). Walking the path under tall and sturdy pine trees with the wind in the branches and the sun on my back was so peaceful.

The second one was in Duke Chapel — a large 11-circuit labyrinth made of canvas spread on the slate floor just before the altar. The settings couldn’t have been more different: hushed darkness, candles, the only noise the swish of socks shuffling along the path.  And this time my eight-year-old daughter, Clara, was with me.

Walking the labyrinth with Clara is an experience I will cherish for a long time. On the way in, I led the two of us slowly, asking “What do I need?” She followed close behind. I had instructed her to open her heart to God, to pay attention to her breath. An 11-circuit labyrinth takes a long time when walking at a meditative pace. She didn’t seem to mind.

We made our way to the center and found a place to rest. She wanted to sit on my lap. I had told her beforehand that the center represented God’s womb. She understood right away that I meant a safe place, free from harm, surrounded by God’s love. I invited her to open her heart again and to ask God what she needs. We sat like that — me cradling her and us being held together in that prayerful space — for a long time. We started back out slowly, with her leading. On the way in I had given her a special stone to carry, and she passed it back to me as we started out. I held it, still warm from her little clasp, and prayed to see how and where I could best participate in God’s healing work in the world.

Walking out after her, I asked for wisdom from on high to follow her lead in life, to let her teach me how to she needs to be cared for. She walked a bit faster than me, and got ahead of me. I had the chance to look upon her and behold her. I prayed, “God, teach me to cherish her more and more each day. Make me worthy of her. Teach me to mother her with Your love and light. AMEN.”800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral

I think the reason walking the labyrinth with Clara was so powerful is that it was something we could do together, something we could participate in as equals. When I think about passing my faith on to her, there is so much that is difficult for me to explain — so many of her questions leave me tongue-tied. And yet here was a form of prayer that was both simple and profound and that involved our bodies but not our intellects. No special training or instruction was required; she is sensitive and picked right up on the sacred tone of the moment. Afterward we quietly put our shoes back on and filed out in silence, blinking in the evening light. I held back from asking her questions about what it meant to her, though over the next few days she did offer some reflections, and mentioned a number of times that she really liked it and wanted to do it again. That evening as I was tucking her into bed, she shared that it was her favorite part of her day. All I could say was, “Mine too, sweetie, mine too.”

-Caren Swanson

First and third images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; second image courtesy of Avila Retreat Center

Creating Space For God

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The following post was written by Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. 

I was participating recently in a Quiet Space Day at the Starrette Farm.  These days provide sacred space to encounter God through silence, solitude, and stillness. These Vignette pathdays help me to consider my needs for these disciplines. It makes me think about how Jesus sought out this kind of quiet space throughout his ministry. It is obvious that he saw it as something he needed.

Jesus needed quiet space in order to experience rest that would replenish him in mind, body, and spirit. He also needed it to reconnect with his father, to nurture this relationship, to be reminded of the work that was given him. He needed this quiet space because his job was difficult. Jesus had people pressing in on him with great needs. He had work that never really felt complete.

Pastors need time apart for similar reasons. We need rest that replenishes us in body, mind, and spirit. We need time to reconnect with God, to nurture this relationship. We need to be reminded of the work God has given us to do. We need this space because our job is difficult. We have people pressing in on us with many demands and work that never feels complete.

Silence and solitude gives us the opportunity to slow down, to be still, and to get quiet, so that we can hear the voice of God. We need a pause from the ever-constant demands that are placed upon us, to slow down long enough to show up for God, so that God can give us what we need to persevere through challenges. Just as it was for Jesus, it’s our connection with God that is our greatest resource for life and ministry.

This is why we need to create space in our lives for silence, solitude, and stillness. We need to protect this time from getting hijacked by the many demands placed upon us.  We need to rest our bodies, quiet our minds, and nurture our souls. Don’t we need this kind of spiritual rest? Wouldn’t it replenish our souls and allow us to re-enter life and ministry refreshed?

Often we deprive ourselves of this gift because we are afraid.  We are afraid that we won’t accomplish what is needed if we take a break. We’re afraid that we won’t be able to slow down long enough to enjoy the space. We’re afraid of having to face ourselves and our unpleasant feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to skip it- then our souls miss out on much needed peace. We miss out on the fruits of silence, solitude, and stillness. We miss out on allowing God to give us the strength we need to press on! Quiet space is something Jesus needed and something we need if only we have the courage and wisdom to create space in our lives for it.

Quiet Space Fridays are offered the Second Friday of every month at the Starrette Farm in Statesville, NC.  For more details, click here.

-Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, MDiv

Rev. Lawhorn is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for Diannethe Lydia Group, which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Ashes

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It was a muddy March, many years ago now, and my liturgically-minded husband and I attended a small country church in rural Vermont. We had only been attending for a couple of years, but we’d missed the observance of Lent that we had enjoyed at our high-liturgy Episcopal church near our former home. Hesitantly, we approached the pastor and asked if we might be able to lead an Ash Wednesday service, and do a series of Taize services during Lent. He agreed enthusiastically, though cautioned us that the church had never done anything like that before.

As the day approached we had all the preparations in place: a simple liturgy, some reflective hymns, and the all-important ashes. What I was not prepared for was the powerful act of actually marking the foreheads of my beloved church family.

“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

One by one they came and stood before me while my husband played quiet instrumental guitar music. One by one I dipped my thumb in the ashes and lifted it to waiting foreheads. I bent to mark the smooth skin of our youngest members. I looked into the eyes of the men and women I considered my spiritual brothers and sisters. But it was the stooped frame of Richard, one of the eldest members of our community, that undid me.  I will never forget the grit of the ash under my thumb as I made the cross on his papery skin.  I could barely choke out my line:

“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

In that moment we both knew the truth of the refrain, and that it would come to pass all too soon for him. It was a holy moment, in which the nearness of death was acknowledged without fear.

DSC_0247In our day-to-day lives we live so removed from death–it is almost as if we forget that we will die. Is it too difficult to live with this reality? Is that why we put it out of our minds? In the wake of my father’s death over a year ago now, I have not been fully able to settle back into the familiar forgetfulness of a death-less living. I am all too aware of life’s fragility and ultimate end. But I must say, sad as I am to be without my father, I am grateful for this new reality. Each day is an ordinary gift of grace offered to me, and the chance for me to offer grace to others.

I love this prayer from Alive Now–the invitation to “reacquaint ourselves with our smoldering, crumbling, earthbound nature.”  Today, as you mark countless foreheads with gritty ashes, may you be comforted by the reality of the boundaries of all our lives, and the holy thread of God’s presence that is woven in the space between.

God of all peoples and creatures,
you knew the chaos that swirled before Creation
and the clash of tongues in Babylon;
you raised up humanity from dust by your breath,
and by your Spirit we may still be renewed.

But on this day of dust and ashes,
let us not turn too quickly to the hope of new life.
Let us first reacquaint ourselves
with our smoldering, crumbling, earthbound nature:
our ability to burn down all we have built up;
our tendency to devastate, to ravage, to destroy
every place where God dwells,
where Christ abides and reaches out.

Let us come face to face with all we have failed to honor,
every difference we refuse to celebrate,
every fear-based judgment that drives us away from love,
every certainty that lifts us above our brother, our sister,
our neighbor, our enemy,
our very own Belovedness of God.

We confess we are no more than dust and ashes,
and we desire to turn from our destruction.

God of hope and healing, save us from ourselves;
breathe into us again and restore us as your children.
Draw order out of chaos once more:
let our tongues fall silent until guided by your Spirit;
let our steps fall in line with Christ’s journey through the wilderness;
let our hands reach out in care and re-creation
where your work is still to be done.

And in life, in death, and in life beyond death,
may we be marked and claimed by your cross-shaped love.
Amen.

Reprinted with permission from Alive Now.

–Caren Swanson

Walking Lenten Devotional

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With Ash Wednesday just a week away, here is some information about a new Lenten practice you might want to consider.  Published by Church Health Center, Walking to the Cross is a devotional designed to be used during the 40 days of Lent.  The guide Walking to the Crossencourages you to incorporate walking, along with reflection and prayer, into your daily Lenten practices.  From the booklet: “Just as Jesus traveled the long journey to the cross, we believe that walking is an act of spiritual and physical devotion.”

Each week of the program starts with a psalm and the chance to set a “movement goal” for yourself.  This goal is entirely personal and can range from simply increasing physical activity to a specific daily number of steps/miles goal.  You could challenge yourself to try types of physical activity you’ve never engaged in before, such as yoga, a Zumba class, or even jump roping in your office.

You can purchase print copies of Walking to the Cross for $4 each (bulk discounts are available) here or here.  A Kindle version for $2.99 is available here.  An abbreviated online version is available for free here.

-Katie Huffman

Long Expected

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Long expected.

It’s a phrase that often escapes my notice, even in a season wholly given to advent and waiting. Yet, I was reminded by this video that Jesus’ being “long expected” was and is, perhaps, one of the most important qualities of his coming. He is the culmination of the Great Story and Good News of redemption and faithfulness in the world. Whole lives were dedicated to pointing to His coming. They were expecting Him.

I was reminded of just how many stories happened in anticipation of Jesus’ arrival when someone showed me this video over the weekend. I hope that you can treasure the visual and audio experience of waiting. I hope it can serve as an encouragement to you as you wait, as you expect, as you count on God to be faithful in this season.

He is the fulfillment. He has come and He will come again.

Ellie Poole

Bible App

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We began our Spirited Life Group 2 Fall Workshops with a group practice of lectio divina.  After one of the workshops, a pastor mentioned to me that he really appreciated this opportunity because hearing Scripture read aloud by someone else tends to be a rare occurrence.

The pastor also shared that he had recently come across a smartphone app that affords him this opportunity whenever he wants to listen.  He can select a passage, press play, and just listen as it is read to him.  This exercise has changed his prayer life because he can really meditate on the words and reflect on how God is speaking to him through the text.

In addition to the audio feature, the YouVersion Bible App also allows you to find Bible image app devotionals, search for keywords within the Bible, highlight and bookmark passages, and make notes for yourself. The app is available for most brands of smartphones, including iPhones and Droids.

-Katie Huffman

Image from YouVersion.com, via CC

All Is A Gift

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We share hope that in this week of Thanksgiving, you may be aware of the power and presence of God’s great gifts to you: His goodness, His mercy, His steadfast love, now and forevermore.

“Everything is a gift.  The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness.  And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness.  Are we not dead to whatever we take for granted?  Surely to be numb is to be dead.”

– David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer

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 – Catherine Wilson

Image courtesy of flickr user Ben Fredericson, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part III

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This is the third in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here and the second installment here. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back next Monday to read the rest of Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic.

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What we are getting at here is the idea of embracing a new rhythm for life.  Rhythms are a normal and natural part of our everyday lives.  There is a rhythm of the day dissolving into the night.  There is a rhythm of growth and dormancy in our landscape through the seasons.  There is a tidal rhythm in the ebb and flow of the sea.  There is a bodily rhythm in our waking and sleeping.  At the heart of who we are is rhythm, as our hearts beat and then rest between each beat.  This rhythm of activity and rest is something that is so very essential for us.

Sacred_Rhythms_largeAuthor Ruth Haley Barton, writes about this in her book, Sacred Rhythms.  She talks about discovering that some people arrange their lives to see sunsets.  It becomes a part of their daily rhythm.  She tells the story about embracing this practice for herself.  She described rushing around, busy with errands one day, and realizing that she was going to be late for the sunset.  Hearing her beach chair calling her name, she dropped all of the goods that she intended to buy and rushed to meet her sunset, to experience holy rest at last.

I simply love this idea of embracing as a spiritual practice watching the sun go down every night.  I love the idea of scheduling your activities so that you don’t miss out on one of earth’s most beautiful rhythms.  I’m sure for Ruth Haley Barton, her time in the sunset is time that she sets apart to sit in the presence of God.  I’m sure it provides a relaxing and peaceful end to her busy day.  This is a rhythm that she has embraced to include holy rest– not every month, or every week, but every day of her life.  It’s a beautiful idea, isn’t it?

For most of us, it sounds great, but it isn’t something that we feel is very practical.  But why can’t this kind of a “stop” be a reality for us, maybe not every day, but just one day a week?  Are we really too busy for that?  Have we lost this rhythm of life, the balance between work and rest forever?

What we are being invited into through Sabbath-Rest is a new rhythm.  It’s a rhythm that God designed for our benefit.  It’s a rhythm where we take a long, loving look at our Creator and leave the work up to God.  It’s a rhythm where we stop, we become still, we notice, we celebrate our God, who is the source of all blessings. Only when we stop, will we really enter in to God’s rest.  Only when we stop will we experience the recovery of mind, body, and spirit that we need.  So, the question we are left with is- how do we do it, how do we make this kind of holy rest a reality in our lives?

Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.