Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Daily Examen

A few days ago a friend mentioned Ignatian prayer in a blog post which led me to research St. Ignatius and his spiritual exercises. Wiki tells us that Ignatius of Loyola was "a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)." His spiritual exercises, consisting mainly of prayer and meditations, are meant to bring people into a deeper relationship with God.

The Examen of Consciousness is one of St. Ignatius' most well-known spiritual exercises. At the heart of this daily practice is a review in which one reflects on their day with the intention of becoming more spiritually minded and tuned into God. This prayer method helps us see how we have responded to God's movings and promptings throughout our day and when we have failed to do so.

I scoured the net and found all kinds of variations on this exercise, but generally they all follow the same process. I noted the things that resonated with me then whittled it down to a simple practice I could easily incorporate into my day. I've only been doing this for a few days but the results are profound. I already find myself much more God-conscious and I'm receiving supernatural help for issues that have held me back for a very long time. For the review I chose and created questions that I felt would be most helpful for me.


“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

God is always present but I am not always mindful of this. I'll now take the necessary time to fully experience God’s presence.


“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess 5:18)

What do I have to be grateful for today? What have I taken for granted that deserves thanksgiving? I'll now talk to God about these things.


“The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything.” (John 14:26)

Only the Holy Spirit can help me to know my true self as a child of God and shine light on that which I need to see. I'll now invite the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide me.


• How were my thoughts, words and deeds today?
• Which of my feelings and moods are drawing me closer to God?
• Which are driving me away?
• How conscious have I been of God’s presence today?
• Where were there barriers to God's presence or resistance on my part?
• When did I reach out to help others?
• What held me back when I neglected to do so?
• Was I so preoccupied with my own plans that I missed an opportunity?
• Did I bring Christ to my community?
• Did my community bring Christ to me?
• Did I go out to the lonely, the sorrowful, the discouraged and needy?
• Have I been a sign of God’s presence and love to the people I met today?
• When did I neglect to stand up for truth, to share my beliefs and faith?
• Am I sharing my story honestly with myself, God and others?
• How was I drawn to God today?
• Did I see God in the beauty of nature, a song, poem, story, scripture?
• Did I call on God in my doubt, fear, work, failures and weariness?
• Did I share my peace, hope, joy, successes and gratitude with Him?
• Are any of my daily habits interfering with my spiritual growth?
• Are there spiritual practices I need to cultivate? 
• Are there specific people I am allowing to influence me negatively?
• Where has Christ helped me overcome challenges today?
• Could I have accepted more help from Christ?
• Can I become more sensitive to God’s grace?


Now it's time to have a heart to heart with God. I may need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern or express gratitude in response to my daily review. What changes can I make? What specific graces do I need to make those changes? I'll now ask God to provide that which I need to draw closer to Him and resolve to be more conscious tomorrow. Finally, I give thanks to God for His gentle work inside my heart as we labour together to help me become more Christlike, day by day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

20 Spiritual Questions to Ponder

In the documentary ONE: The Movie filmmakers asked well-known spiritual teachers and everyday people philosophical questions that explore the meaning of life. I haven't seen the movie yet but I did read the questions and they are great food for thought. What do I believe? Some answers came easily but others required much more reflection. It's interesting to ponder how my beliefs have changed over the years and consider how they will continue to evolve in the future. Feel free to copy the questions and post your answers on your own blog. Make sure to share a link in the comment section so I can read your answers!

1. Why is there poverty and suffering in the world?
Because the majority of us that could do something about these issues are too far removed from the problem to really care. Humans can be selfish, greedy, fear-filled creatures. We live in an unelightened world.

2. What is the relationship between science and religion?
Science studies creation but religion is focused on the creator.

3. Why are so many people depressed?
They've lost a sense of meaning and purpose. They are disconnected.

4. What are we all so afraid of?
Being criticized, abandoned, forgotten, alone. That death is the end.

5. When is war justifiable?
I don't know.

6. How would God want us to respond to aggression and terrorism?
With prayer.

7. How does one obtain true peace?
By surrendering.

8. What does it mean to live in the present moment?
To act without an attachment to the results, let go of the past and stop trying to control the future.

9. What is our greatest distraction?
The limitless void. The illusion that more (money, stuff, power, recognition, talent, travel, friends, prayer, etc.) will make us happier.

10. Is current religion serving its purpose?

11. What happens to you after you die?
I'm pretty confident that our spirit separates from our physical body and based on accounts from near-death experiencers I think it is possible that we are guided by spiritual beings and participate in a life review. I believe we continue our education while in the spiritual realms and reincarnate if necessary. I believe hell does exist and some souls go to hell because they have made a conscious decision to reject God. I also believe there are realms beyond imagination in which we enter into communion with God.

12. Describe heaven and how to get there.
Heaven is communion with God. It is experienced when we take up our crosses and follow Christ -when we die to self and become Christlike.

13. What is the meaning of life?
To encounter and transcend adversity. To experience the physical realm, practice free will, embrace life and learn to love. To find pleasure in God's creation.

14. Describe God.
God is the sentient life force that exists in all living things and watches over us at the same time. God is a part of and separate from; intrinsic and transcendent. God is the creator and the creation.

15. What is the greatest quality humans posses?
The capacity to love that which seems unloveable.

16. What is it that prevents people from living to their full potential?

17. Non-verbally, by motion or gesture only, act out what you believe to be the current condition of the world.

18. What is your one wish for the world?
That everyone will feel safe and loved.

19. What is wisdom and how do we gain it?
Wisdom is the ability to see the big picture. We gain it by learning from our past and listening to God.

20. Are we all One?
We are, but we don't yet know it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Can Christians Become Enlightened?

As much as I love the Christian path there is a mindset common among followers of Jesus that really disappoints me. I'm finding this a little hard to put into words so please bear with me. 

What I have observed is that very few Christians appear to work on their spiritual health in any practical way. Often, they genuinely want to change but instead of doing work to help themselves they choose to put their faith in God. It's as if they expect God to flick a switch and make them better people. 

Some Christians believe that incorporating certain practices not only demonstrates a lack of faith but is potentially dangerous. Personal development resources (books, programs, counseling, etc.) are often viewed with suspicion if not fear. There may be the outright rejection of any spiritual teaching that is not found in the Bible or even hints at New Thought. (Ironically, sometimes the Bible says the same thing but frames it differently!) Self-help books, yoga, meditation, body work, cognitive therapy and the likes are often dismissed entirely as being too new-agey and therefore risky business.

Many Christians are afraid to claim their own (God-given) power. Afraid to even admit they have any. I happen to believe God created us in His image, with the divine spark, and capable of greatness. Our animalistic nature (what many would call our fallen nature) is a considerable handicap but I won't allow it to be the defining characteristic of my being. I am a child of God first; a creature of this world second. Can we overcome the flesh? Jesus did. He received a glorified body in its place. What if that is what the resurrection was all about? The overcoming. What if Jesus' death on the cross was a symbolic message rather than a substitute punishment? What if we paid as much attention to the resurrection as we do the crucifixion? 

What if God can only give us new glorified bodies when we have freely surrendered our earthly ones for crucifixion?

It's almost like Christianity promotes this fatalistic thinking that we cannot fix ourselves, that we are broken beyond repair, and our only hope is that God will restore us after we die. Although there is some truth in this we are allowing it to have too much power over us. Yes, as long as we remain in this world, in these (unglorified) bodies, we will be tempted and we will stumble. But is that evidence that we belong on the ground? No, even Jesus stumbled on his way to the cross.

Don't get me wrong, I wholly believe we need to trust in God, just not in the believe now so he can fix us later kind of way. God leads but we must listen and follow his directions. He gives us strength and wisdom but we must do the work. God empowers us, here and now, to be healed, to be transformed, to become (dare I say it) enlightened! To me this is the most beautiful message of any teaching in any religion. We can be born again and made anew. Of course we never do it alone. Aloneness is an illusion. Our spiritual nature is intimately connected with its source; it cannot be disconnected any more than an estuary can be disconnected from the ocean. All that craves God comes from God and is God. Deep calls out to deep.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is within and you know what? I believe him.

What do you think? Do Christians shirk spiritual work? Is the doctrine of original sin a self-limiting belief that prevents Christians from reaching their full potential?