Nearly five hundred years ago (1521), a young man named Ignatius went off to war. He was injured with a cannonball and had to return home to the Basque region of Spain to recover. As he recuperated in the months that followed, he had little else to do (no facebook or twitter or even TV movies) so he read. The Bible and two books filled most of his time. He began to wonder seriously what his life was about.
As Ignatius grew more physically well, he ventured out and devoted himself to a vocation of prayer and discernment. After seeing a vision of Mary and Jesus in 1522, he began to pray and write intensely, and in 1523 he wrote the foundation of “The Spiritual Exercises.” This book continues to shape the spirituality of priests, religious leaders and lay people particularly through the exercise of examen. After theological study in Spain and France, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1539. The Jesuits have grown across five centuries to be a powerful global presence leading, teaching and influencing church, educational institutions, and social justice issues.
Akin to Lectio Divina, examen is a form of spiritual exercise that invites us to pray the scriptures but in a more guided way through questions. Examen is a way of discernment. It allows us to look back to times and events of our own everyday lives and ask questions that help us notice the presence and guidance of God’s spirit. There are no singular or definitive answers to such open-ended questions. Yet continuing to discover over time what brings consolation or desolation shapes our way of seeing and acting that honors our learning and God’s wisdom.
On Sunday at Glendale Baptist Church our Lenten worship was focused on Psalm 139:7-12. It starts with two profound questions: Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? The entire psalm has been guiding our worship throughout this season. Here are the questions we considered in a time of silence.
- Where do I go to escape the Spirit? And where do I flee God’s presence?
- To what heights will I go? And what depths?
- Where have I noticed God’s hand this week?
- How does the Spirit hold me fast?
- Where in my life do I feel darkness covering me? And light dwindling?
- How is God’s presence a paradox of darkness and light in my everyday life?
As you discern your own path – through Lent or through life, may you have eyes to see God’s spirit leading.
* During Lent I am posting the prayer experiences I lead in my congregation on Sundays. This is the third in the series.