Take My Yoke Upon You: The Examen (part 2 of 2)

Sermon for Sunday, July 16, 2017

I began this two-part sermon last week talking about our partnership with God in Christ; how Jesus’ invitation to “take his yoke” upon us is an invitation to plow the field with him, walking alongside each other. If you’re anything like me, you find this invitation easier to accept during terrible and tumultuous times, and you lay aside the yoke during the mundane dailiness of life. I closed last week’s sermon asking these questions: How much more meaningful would our lives be if we invited God to be present in those mundane times: to be part of the washing up and the lawn mowing and the daily commute? To be part of studying for a test and eating dinner and jogging? How much more often would we notice God already at work in the world around us if we invited God to be at work in the world within us?

This noticing happens when we pay attention. And when we pay attention we discover God is already at work in our lives whether or not we sent the invitation. I’d like to take the rest of this sermon to introduce you to a spiritual practice I have been using for the past eleven years in order to remain attentive. It is called the Ignatian Examen, a daily introspective prayer of awareness derived from the work and witness of 16th century Saint Ignatius Loyola. Continue reading “Take My Yoke Upon You: The Examen (part 2 of 2)”

A New Dream

Homily for Maundy Thursday || April 17, 2014 || John 13

MaundyThurs2014Imagine with me the Apostle Peter at night in his prison cell in Rome near the end of his life.

It all happened so long ago. Thirty years or more now. And yet sometimes – like tonight – I wake up in the cold wee hours of the morning gasping for air because my dreams drag me back to that week. One moment, I’m being suffocated by the crowds pressing in on me, buffeting me, shouting for blood. The next I awake in my prison cell, take in great swallows of stale air.

My cellmate – another follower rounded up here in Rome like I was – he says, “You were shouting in your sleep again.”

“What was I shouting?” I ask, though I already know the answer.

“Something like, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about,’ ” he says.

Yes, of course. The same old dream. I always wake up when the rooster crows.

Why can’t I dream of the happier times? Lugging the huge catch of fish onto the beach. Talking with Jesus around the campfire. Sharing a meal with him in our hideout in Jerusalem.

“Perhaps you still feel guilty,” my cellmate says. “We’ve all heard the story: how you denied you knew Jesus when he needed you most.”

“But Jesus forgave me,” I say. “I told him I loved him. He gave me a mission to feed his sheep. He knew I couldn’t live with myself, so he told me to live for him instead…And I have…”

My voice trails off. I used to give this defense with more fire.

He might have forgiven you.” My cellmate again. “But have you truly accepted his forgiveness? Have you ever forgiven yourself?”

I want to say, “yes.” I want this fellow in my cell to know that I am one of Jesus’ most fervent followers, that I remember everything he ever taught, that I apply it constantly to my life. But it’s all a lie. A front I put on so others will be encouraged. If they knew the doubts that assail my hearts, they’d be less eager to follow, I tell myself. I do follow, but…fervently?

His question lingers in the stale air: “Have you ever forgiven yourself?” I want to say, “yes,” but something about the dank prison cell drags the truth out of me instead. Must be the hardness of the floor, the right angles of the walls, the smoothness of the stones. In Rome, even the prison cells are plumb. “No,” I say. The word rebounds off the wall. The echo indicts me.

Silence replaces the echo, and we listen to each other breathing in the dark. “I’d always heard you were stubborn, Peter,” says my cellmate. “But that forgiveness. That love of his. It was a free gift. You didn’t need to earn it. Your denial didn’t make you unworthy of it. Do you not see that?”

A recent convert, this one. I can always tell by their zeal. This one is mouthier than most.

He presses on. “It’s the footwashing all over again.”

“The what?”

“The night before Jesus went to his death on the cross. We’ve all heard that story, too. Jesus knew he was going to God and so he wanted to show you all the importance of service. Of love. The fact that service and love are really the same thing. So he took off his robe, got down on his knees, and washed the feet of his friends.”

“I remember. I was there.”

“But…but when he got to your feet, you didn’t want them washed. You didn’t feel worthy of that either.”

This I have to answer. “He just looked so small,” I say. “Crawling on his knees, pushing the wash basin before him. It felt so wrong for him to humble himself like that for my sake. His humility made me feel even more unworthy.”

More silence. Again, the truth tumbles out.

“It still does.”

And what does my cellmate do? He starts to sing:

“Being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

“I heard that the day I was arrested,” he says. “We sang it at a gathering.”

“So?”

“It says Jesus humbled himself and became obedient. Don’t you see, Peter? How can I, who is so new to the Way, be the one to teach you this, you who have the keys to the kingdom? Humility and obedience go together.”

I shift on my cot. I don’t want to hear this, but his voice has taken on a new tone, one I remember Jesus using: excitement and insight mixing together to form revelation. I sit up and feel the hairs raise on the back of my neck.

“When he washed your feet he demonstrated humble service. And what did he do next?”

“He told us to love each other.”

“No. He commanded you to love each other. It wasn’t a request. Jesus gave you a direct order, a new commandment. To obey you had to love. To show love you had to serve humbly. To serve humbly you had to obey – to listen deeply for his call and act on it. I found my church – my new family – because I watched them loving each other, serving each other, and I knew I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to follow Jesus’ commandment.”

“And yet here you are, in prison with me.”

“I believe I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do.”

“And what exactly is that?”

He takes a deep breath. “Helping Peter find a new dream.”

I grunt my derision, but the memory of the rooster crowing still hovers behind my eyes. I’m listening, in spite of myself.

“Look,” he presses. “You can dismiss everything I say as the ravings of convert’s zeal. But just because I’m new doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Those words you said in fear that night still haunt you. Let them go. Tell me now. Say it aloud. Say you know him.”

His words awaken the same ones in me. I open my mouth. My voice catches in my throat. But I force them out. “I do know the man.”

“Say it again.”

“I do know him.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s here in this cell. I hear him speaking through you.”

“What is he commanding?”

“He wants me to let go, to let his forgiveness wash me clean, to release my stubbornness and pride, to hear and obey.”

“ To hear and obey. To love and serve in humility?”

“That is his command. Loving and serving. The command and the gift, both at the same time.”

He reaches across the divide between our cots and grasps my hand. I can feel his blood pulsing. And for the first time in God knows how long, I feel the fire blaze in me again. He squeezes my hand and holds it fast. “Peter, my friend, there’s your new dream.”

*Art: detail from “Columbus in Prison” by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)

Digital Disciple Chapter 6: Tech Sabbath

After a midsummer hiatus, here’s the final part in a six part video series produced to accompany the book Digital Disciple. This video series is designed to be used in a class setting to introduce the material and spur discussion. Of course, watching it by yourself is fine too!

Don’t forget to head over to the Facebook page and participate in a little quiz about this video. We’ll pick a random winner from those who participate and he or she will receive an autographed copy of the book, the DVD, and the t-shirts that Adam wore in the video (again, not the actual shirt but one just like it). Check it out!

Encountering the Examen

The following post appeared Wednesday, November 18th on Episcopalcafe.com, a website to which I am a monthly contributor. Check it out here or read it below.

* * *

Three Novembers ago, I was a recluse in my seminary dormitory, I ate meals alone at tables with seven other people, and the light had gone out in my eyes. Heartbreak six months old continued to ferment within me. I had no way to deal so I drank deep of my own depression. I was a wretched creature, cast from the pages of Dickens or Dostoyevsky. To borrow from the psalmist, the water had risen up to my neck: I was sinking in deep mire and there was no firm ground for my feet.

In this state, I drove to St. Alban’s in Northwest DC to meet with my spiritual director. The month before, in our first meeting of the new school year, she could tell right away that something was different about me. I was waiting to be buzzed into the office, and she saw me through the little window in the locked door. The door opened, and without a word, she took my arm and pulled me into an embrace. The tears would have come if I had had any left.

A month after that first meeting, I had slipped even lower in the mire. The only thing that could have made the situation worse had happened, and I was struggling to go an hour without wallowing in the future that would have been. I sat down in the rocking chair in my spiritual director’s office. She lit the candle, and we sat in the relative silence of the intersection of Wisconsin and Mass Ave.

Over the next hour, I talked about how difficult it was not to dwell on the woman who left me. In that special way spiritual directors have of eliciting responses by being quiet at the right times, my director helped me discover something. During the nearly two years that we were together, I prayed for this woman every day. I lifted her up to God, and thanked God for her presence in my life. But the prayer dissolved with the relationship, which, of course, was the exact wrong time to stop praying. “When your mind starts to spiral to thoughts of her,” my spiritual director said, “pray for her instead. You are still connected through the love of God, even if you are no longer together.”

The guidance helped, but I don’t think I would have ever recovered if a new spiritual practice hadn’t accompanied the counsel. That same session, my director handed me a sheet of paper entitled “Ignatius’ 5 Step Daily Consciousness or ‘Awareness’ Examen.” “Pray these steps every night for the next month,” she said, “and write them down if writing makes you focus better.” This was a prescription for soul medicine, and, in my desperation, I saw it as a cure. She might have said, “Take two Examens and call me in the morning.” Of course, that’s not how spiritual practices work.

On the first night, I placed a red, five-subject notebook on my pillow so I wouldn’t forget. In the top right corner of the first page, I wrote “1,” and on the first line, “November 6, 2006.” Feeling a bit silly and wondering if I should get a little lock for my new diary, I took out the Examen.

“Step One,” I read: “Be Mindful.” I scratched the words, “Yes, Lord, you are here” under the date and took a deep breath. Something detached from my consciousness with that breath and I wrote it down. Yes, Lord, you are here in the presence of my friends. (My friends whom I have abandoned because I’m sure that none of them has ever felt the way I feel right now. How presumptuous.)

“Step Two. Be Thankful.” A roast beef sandwich, spiritual direction, sweater weather. When I thought about it, I found that I was thankful about some things. How wonderful.

“Step Three. Be Humble.” Ah, here’s the tough one, I thought. Humility and I have never been close; cards at Christmas – that’s about it. What is God teaching me through the lesson of today? How has God illumined me today without me realizing it? How uncomfortable.

“Step Four. Be Reflective.” What’s that one encounter from today that has stuck with me? Did the encounter bring me closer or push me away from God? Can’t think of one? How distracted.

“Step Five. Be Responsive.” I read over what I had written, and breathed deeply again. And again, something detached and I wrote it down. So this is where God is leading me. How revealing.

Three years later, the Examen has become a part of my life. I make mental notes during the day about what I want to write. I’m on my sixth notebook, and I switch between blue and black pens, so I can tell when they have run out of ink. The woman, who initially appeared in every entry, no longer stars in its pages. New thanksgivings and desolations and encounters and hopes abound. They are all parts of my story, which God already knows, but which I am discovering every day. I pray to be mindful, thankful, humble, reflective, responsive. I pray for the courage to live a life that can fill dozens of more notebooks. And I pray that God continues to guide my hand as I spill my soul onto those college-ruled pages.