The Prayer of Examen: A Prayer for Greater Self-Awareness

The Prayer of Examen: A Prayer for Greater Self-Awareness

RELATED: Prayer, Praise, and Prostitutes

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Like me, you’ve probably quoted these verses many times. But have you ever practiced them? The prayer of examen is a pattern of prayer that invites us to actually do what these verses say.

Crafted by St. Ignatius of Loyola, this form of prayer has been used for centuries by those who want to become more aware of God’s presence in their everyday lives and notice ways in which they can better align their lives to God’s Word. In as little as ten minutes, you can pray this prayer, or you can spend any amount of time you’d like with it. Allow yourself some flexibility with its structure. For example, some days, you might spend more time with one section of the prayer or skip a section entirely. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to enjoy this way of being with God while trying, on most days, to spend time with each section of the prayer.

An important practice that often accompanies the prayer of examen is writing in a journal. As you keep a written record of your actions, thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, you might notice some patterns in your life that you weren’t aware of. These patterns might become the content for additional prayer, invitations to change, or causes for celebration. Talking with a pastor, spiritual director, or wise friend can help you discern what, if any, actions you should take based on this prayer.

Over the years, the prayer of examen has undergone many adaptions and variations. Here’s a pattern that has been helpful to me.

  • Review your knowledge of God. Sometimes before we pray, we need to remind ourselves about the Person to whom we pray. Is the God we pray to all-powerful? All knowing? Loving? Merciful? What do you know to be true about God? Do you know God as a healer, deliverer, comforter, teacher, creator, protector, friend, way-maker? Open your prayer by inviting God into this time of holy and loving guidance. Honor God by naming some of the attributes of God that you experienced today. Write them in your journal.
  • Recognize where God has been present to you. Our days can be so busy that we often miss noticing the many ways that God is walking with us. What were the gifts of your day? Some days it’s as simple as the smile of a child, coffee with a friend, or work you enjoy. On other days, it’s as significant as the birth of a child. Where did you see God’s goodness today? Take nothing for granted. Rejoice and be thankful. Jot down a couple of examples of God’s loving presence and guidance to you today.
  • Reflect on any feelings that emerge. During the past 24 hours, what feelings surfaced? Frustration? Shame? Joy? Excitement? Fear? Confidence? Disappointment? Love? Anger? Peace? Choose one positive and one negative emotion and talk to God about your feelings. Pay attention to instances where you cooperated with God’s action in your life. Notice where you resisted God. Reflect honestly and patiently on these feelings. Don’t condemn yourself, and don’t be complacent either. This is intended to be a gentle way of reviewing your emotions under an umbrella of God’s love and grace. Capture your thoughts in your journal.
  • Repent for the moments you missed God’s invitations to serve, to love, to give, to hope. Did you miss an opportunity to be kind, helpful, encouraging, generous? Be attentive to the Holy Spirit who lives within you. Record in your journal some of these missed opportunities. Write down that one missed opportunity that you don’t really want to write down.
  • Recommit to walking in a greater knowledge of God and self. Acknowledge your continued desire to live according to God’s ways. Ask for God’s strength. Listen for God’s words of consolation, love, and affirmation. Write down any insights, thoughts, invitations from God, words of guidance, or possible next steps. Thank God for speaking to you through your own life experiences. Ask for God’s graceful guidance as you move into a new day.

An Invitation—for the next 30 days, take 10 to 20 minutes to practice the prayer of examen, including recording your prayers in a journal. At the end of 30 days, review your prayers. Do you notice any habits and patterns in your life? Do you hear whispers of love from God to you? Are there any invitations for change, movement, growth, transformation? There might be, or there might not. In either case, you are building a relationship with a God who fully knows and loves you. As you come to God in this or any prayer, you can become more aware of God’s desire for your continual growth in compassionate love and grace for yourself and others.



Maisie Sparks is a spiritual director and the author of Holy Shakespeare and other titles.

Prayer, Praise, and Prostitutes

Prayer, Praise, and Prostitutes

RELATED: The Prayer of Examen: A Prayer for Greater Self-Awareness

Our rendezvous point was the home of a saint. Together, we climbed the 25 steps that led to the bedroom of Mother Teresa, a five-foot giant of love and mercy. We peered into the small, modestly adorned space where she had slept, prayed, and responded to letters from every corner the world. Slowly, we descended the stairs and walked into the chapel that contained Mother’s tomb. Some of the women kissed the tomb. Some gave alms. Some cried. One showed her daughter how to fold her hands in prayer. They were prostitutes and owners of brothels. I was a woman who was about to journey from ignorance to understanding, and from judgment to love.

This was just one of the many mind-changing and heart-opening encounters I had on a recent mission trip to India. For years, Anita, a missionary and friend of mine, had been asking me to accompany her overseas, but I always had one good excuse or another. I had supported her efforts financially, but I didn’t think I was called to go to other parts of the world to serve when there were enough folks in my own backyard who needed to be served. Mind you, I wasn’t really serving people in my own backyard, but the excuse made me believe that I had my priorities straight. This year though, she had urged me, was the right year for me to go because she would be doing something different. Along with distributing rice, other staples, and the good news of God’s love for everyone, she wanted to offer soul care to religious leaders as well as HIV-positive children living in orphanages, widows, nursing mothers, those attending churches in the jungle, the hearing impaired, and prostitutes. She thought that since I had a certificate in the practice of spiritual direction and a master’s degree in family ministry and spiritual formation, I was well equipped to help people pay greater attention to the quality of their relationship with God.

I knew that I was ill-equipped to speak to such a broad range of audiences, but I decided to go because I was interested in visiting that part of the world and curious about what I could learn from a different culture. Learning, I was to discover, was about to take on a whole new depth after I spent a day with women whom I thought I knew. What I deemed to be knowledge had been prejudice in disguise.

Sharing Life Together

Writer Maisie Sparks at the home of Mother Teresa.

After we left the chapel, the women and I went to the museum that chronicles Mother Teresa’s life. Some of the women couldn’t read English or their own language, but we looked at the pictures and followed the visual narrative about the impact Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu had made on the world.

The women were well-dressed. Not in that I’m-trying-to-pick-up-a-guy kind of way that I had assumed they would be, but in a I’m-going-somewhere-important-and-I-should-dress-for-the-occasion way. Their saris were made of vibrant, colorful, and intricately designed materials. I, on the other hand, was sorely underdressed. I had bought an inexpensive contemporary Indian-styled blouse on the first day of my arrival. My attempt at replicating the culture’s fashion sense was so bad that one of my interpreters convinced a store owner to give me a better price on some souvenirs because I was not a rich American. The evidence of my station in life, she pointed out, was the kind of material my clothes had been made from. Although my pride was hurt, my wallet was happy.

As we walked through the courtyard that connected the buildings that comprised the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, I pulled out my journal and began to capture some of my thoughts. I was starting to feel as if this was going to be a watershed day and that I should write down as much of it as I could. But I had to stop. A group photo was being organized, and I hurried over to make sure that I was part of it to memorialize the day that I began to see similarities and not just differences. Even though we didn’t speak the same language and were from different cultures, we all shared the same desires. We wanted better for our lives, and especially, the lives of our children. We had suffered at the hands of others and had been impacted by systems and circumstances that restricted the financial mobility of the poor—especially women. We all, at some point in our lives, had overstepped the bounds of righteousness to secure the life we thought we wanted.

Uncomfortable Truths

In some cultures, prostitution is a viable choice for women who are poor, lack education, and have little, if any, hope for help from charities or government programs. It provides a career path to ownership of bars, hotels/brothels, catering services, and other ancillary services once a woman can earn more money than she needs to survive. Indeed, several of the women I met were business owners.

One of the missionaries who we served with in India told me that the women have been open to hearing the gospel, especially in the engaging ways Anita had shared it on previous visits. Yet, few have been motivated to change their careers. Where she’d seen the greatest change is in the numbers of them enrolling their children in the pre-schools she had established.

As the day continued, I would learn that even before the local missionary opened her pre-schools, many of the women had given their children an education. Some had even put their children through college—both boys and girls. Educating girls is significant because they don’t have equal worth in this and many other cultures. I realized that this belief is pervasive and is manifested in my own culture by unequal pay, glass ceilings to career advancement, and the inability of women to obtain business loans.

Teaching and Learning

After visiting Mother Teresa’s home, we took a short walk to a cloistered hotel with a beautiful lawn and an air-conditioned meeting room. Anita began the teaching part of our day by sharing the good news of the sacrificial love of Christ. The session ended with joyous songs of praise from the women. To take a break from a long spell of sitting, we went outside to play a game.

Anita had each woman find a partner. One partner was blindfolded, and the other had to guide the blindfolded person through a maze of chairs by giving only verbal directions. It was comical to watch and uncomfortable to experience. But it led us into a discussion about what it’s like to walk in darkness, to stumble around, to be fearful. We asked ourselves: Can we trust the voice we hear? Are we good at giving directions? Are we good at taking directions? Do we know our left from our right? The exercise elicited much laughter. Anita transitioned from talking about the darkness to introducing the Light. There is a voice we can trust, she declared. That voice invites us to walk a path that leads to the better life that we all seek.

After a spicy lunch, it was my turn to teach, and I introduced the women to the prayer of examen. Each time I shared this prayer in this culture, I wondered whether it would be experienced as relevant. Poor people don’t need a reflective prayer, I thought. They need a prayer about getting God to do things for them through prayer. What I was to learn, however, is that everyone, everywhere needs time to reflect on what they think about God. We all need to discover that our deepest desire is to know God deeply, no matter where we live, what we’ve done, or what our circumstances are.

As I shared my presentation, I often paused, asking questions, and waiting for feedback to see whether I was explaining the prayer clearly. They responded with answers that let me know that they understood me. Near the end, one woman stood and prayed the prayer using examples from her own life—direct confirmation for me that she got it.

I discovered that prayer – reflective, sincere, and unbiased – can activate compassion and give birth to love. We ended the day singing songs of praise, playing balloon volleyball, giving gifts, and sharing hugs. I no longer experienced their presence as “them and me.” We were one: women united with a universal bond and a desire to know God, each other, and our own selves at a much deeper level.

I had traveled more than 8,000 miles to be part of a mission trip, but in reality, I had taken a longer journey. I had experienced the mysterious lengths God will take to get us out of our heads and into His heart. That is the longest and most significant distance each of us can ever travel.



Maisie Sparks is a spiritual director and the author of Holy Shakespeare and other titles.

Time to straighten out our Jericho Road

Time to straighten out our Jericho Road

Video Courtesy of hardknocktv


When Jesus wanted to teach a lawyer the universal truth about what it means to be a neighbor, He told a story about a man from one ethnic group who helped a man from another ethnic group who had been beaten and left for dead along the Jericho Road. This anonymous brother’s keeper has been venerated as the Good Samaritan, and schools, hospitals, and streets are named after him. But today, if Jesus were telling this story, I wonder if He would only focus on one person helping another person. Today’s Jericho Road is not a one-person problem. If we’re to understand what it means to be a neighbor and straighten out our Jericho Road, we’ll need a national body of determined individuals who come together to fix a dangerous curve in our historical road that has caused damage to many for far too long.

What do I mean by straighten out our Jericho Road? First, a little context. In biblical times, the Jericho Road was the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a flourishing city. The rich and famous built their vacation homes in Jericho. Religious leaders spent their days off there, perhaps resting under a palm tree. But the road to Jericho had many twists and turns where evil people lurked and attacked unsuspecting travelers. Far too many people taking the four-hour trek down the Jericho Road found themselves victims of evildoers.

Some would question why anyone would knowingly travel such a dangerous roadway, but a better question would be: Why should anyone be unable to travel to Jericho in safety? Are we to surrender our freedom because some would want to deny our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Why are we told to go back to Africa when our forefathers and foremothers helped build this great society—for free? When we gather for Bible study in our own churches, do we have to fear that evil people are going to jump out of nowhere and attack us?

Today’s Jericho Road is a twisted state of mind

Our Jericho Road is not offenders lurking on some mountain path over in Israel. It’s individuals with twisted states of mind who believe they can wait in their own dark shadows and then, without warning, jump out and attack people because they don’t like how they look or falsely believe that individuals searching for peace and rest are a threat to them. How do we straighten out such a mindset? Do we need metal detectors at every church door? Should we take off our shoes off before we enter our places of worship, not because we’re standing on holy ground, but because we want to ensure no one is hiding a bomb in their shoes?

When our nation has experienced natural disasters and terrorist tragedies in the past, we’ve come together, stepped up with celebrity telethons, public service announcements, days of silence, and other forms of active support to tell ourselves and the world that we’re better than this… that we shall overcome all terrorist threats to a humane society.

Go public against racial hatred

When a group of African Americans tried to cross a bridge in Selma and were denied, the country rallied. People of all ethnic stripes came against forces that wanted to infringe upon the God-given dignity of others. In one collective voice, they said, “No more. Not on my watch. Never again.”

Do we have enough Good Samaritans today who are willing to go public with their determination to end racism? Can we get enough people to just say no to racism so that our national consciousness reaches a tipping point that ends racial injustice? Will we call out and straighten out our own family members, friends, co-workers, and associates when they espouse ideas and actions that would undermine the safety and sanctity of others?

There’s been a lot of talk about having conversations about race, but as we all know, talk is cheap—unless it’s meant to broaden our understanding and respect for people who are “other” to us. Should we have such honest and transparent conversations, we’d quickly find out that underneath the skin, we’re all pretty much the same, with the same dreams and aspirations for ourselves and future generations. But until people, famous and anonymous, lock arm in arm and publicly declare that life matters and that racial hatred is wrong and will not be tolerated here, we can expect more of the same.

It’s been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If that is true, then good people must take just actions until evildoers realize that we the people are intolerant of racial injustice. What Jesus taught must still be shared: We are all neighbors. We all are made in the image of God. Christ died so we could all experience our universal oneness in Him. When a Black child is murdered in the streets, we all suffer. When a White child is murdered in her elementary schoolroom, we all suffer. We are all human. No one else needs to be senselessly gunned down to make this heart-wrenching point.

 

Is a gig economy job right for you?

Is a gig economy job right for you?

The American Law Journal


Ronald West starts his day at 3 a.m., picking up passengers who are trying to catch early morning flights from Chicago’s downtown to its two busy, international airports. Around 6:30 a.m., the former retail salesman turned Uber driver, takes a break to avoid the frustrations of the morning rush hour traffic.

At 8:30 a.m., West resumes his day, shuttling passengers across the Second City and its suburbs until 3:00 p.m. West loves his work, and at the beginning of this year, turned down what many people would call a “good job”— medical benefits and a retirement package included—for the freedom and independence that the fast-growing “gig economy” offers.

Gigs, freelance projects, short-term assignments, on-demand jobs, or single task opportunities have been around for ages. The difference today is that technology is allowing people who need a service to quickly and easily connect with someone who wants to deliver it. Apps from companies such as Uber, Instacart, TaskRabbit, and Dogvacay, have given birth a whole new way of finding work that has its pros and its cons, depending on what you want out of work and life.

“The mindset of someone who wants to have a gig economy job has to be the belief that success comes from within,” says West whose gig is his full-time job. “Most people want a guaranteed job, but I want to guarantee my success by knowing that if I go out and do the work, the income will come in. I have to pay my bills like everyone else, but I also want time to do things that I enjoy by having the flexibility this work allows.”

West, who is a spoken word performer most weekends, opted to give a gig job a try because the job he had and the ones he was researching didn’t allow the kind of time he needed for practicing, writing, and lending support to fellow partners in rhyme, all of whom are committed to following their passion.

Pros and cons

Freedom, flexibility, and independence are the big plusses often cited by those taking advantage of a gig economy job. But other folks see some big drawbacks, even West recognizes. “There’s no medical insurance or retirement plan,” notes West, who is single with no kids, “so you will have to do some homework to find affordable and adequate health insurance, and you’ll want to talk to an accountant to make sure you’re taking care of your taxes and putting something away for retirement. But if you’re willing to take a calculated risk and step out on faith, a gig economy job could work for you.”

A TIME article reports that 55 percent of Americans who offer services from a gig economy platform are racial and ethnic minorities. It’s a whole new frontier of immediate income opportunities that many say has to be balanced against long-term career goals.

Before deciding to take a gig economy job, you’ll want to ask yourself:

  • Can I deal with an inconsistent income? There might be high and low-income months and you’ll need to develop a budget that accounts for irregular income.
  • Am I a people person? You might be called on to engage with a wide variety of people and provide them with a customer experience that they’ll want you or others to provide again.
  • Am I self-motivated? No one will be telling you what to do, how many hours to work or setting deadlines; but you still need to set a work schedule for yourself and stick to it.
  • Do I like administrative tasks? If not, accounting, project, and time management apps can take some of the clerical work out of your day so that you can spend more time on the core activity of your work and life, knowing that important financial and administrative details are being taken care of.
  • What service do I want offer? The range of services being offered via gig economy platforms is growing by the minute. You’ll want to research several companies to determine what their services are; if you have the skills and tools—such as a car—to do the work; and whether this is a service you’d like to provide.
  • What’s my long-term goal? If the service you provide can be a stepping-stone or provide experience for what you want to do in the future, a gig economy job might be right for you. It may also be a good place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do and you want to test out a few options. In either case, you’ll want to take some time to think about where you want to go and how this gig will help you get there.

“I love offering transportation services,” says West. “And sometimes, if my passengers are open to it, I’ll try out a few of my spoken word lyrics on them. Being able to bring all of who I am to all I do is what I believe life and work is about.”

Resources:

 

 

The surprisingly beautiful Africa the media never shows you

The surprisingly beautiful Africa the media never shows you

When Motebang Moeketsi looks at his country, he sees the majesty of its mountains, the stillness of its rivers and the joy of its people. Moeketsi lives in Lesotho, a country that sits between the Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges and is surrounded by South Africa. This land of 2 million residents and numerous awe-inspiring sites is a hidden gem, too long overlooked for Moeketsi’s taste. So Moeketsi, like many of his generation, is capturing and sharing his country’s beauty for the world to see. And what is being seen is changing the world’s view of this continent.



Courtesty of 2nacheki

The beauty and diversity that is Africa is coming to light in photos and video from young Africans who tweet using #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou.

Since #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou appeared on Twitter, the world has been taking a new look at the continent that can fit North America, China and India within its borders and still have plenty of land to spare. The diversity of cultures, clothing, modern cities, and natural landscapes reveals a side of the continent that most Westerners don’t see on their evening news or in their social studies textbooks.

“In general, the media, especially non-African media, have shown poverty and diseases … little good,” says Moeketsi, a photographer and computer engineering graduate from the University of Cape Town. “Our role as Africans is to turn this mindset around using various channels. This hashtag provides us with that platform. Africa has come a long way from the ruin created by those who now fault us for it. Images and perspective are important because how people perceive you often feeds how they treat you.”

How it got started
That was the sentiment that caused Rachel Markham of Ghana and her friend, Diana Saleh, a Somali-American, to create the hashtag back in June. The two were tired of seeing stereotypical images of the continent that only captured extreme poverty, corrupt governments and people living in jungles. According to a Fader interview, Saleh asked her followers to join her in showcasing the beauty of Africa. The hashtag hit a much-needed-to-be-addressed nerve and hundreds of images were tweeted of contemporary African fashions, amazing ancient and modern architecture and stunning people. The hashtag was mentioned more than 70,000 times in its first few weeks and beautiful images appeared on Instagram as well.

The tweets come from countries all across the African continent, showing photos of countries with growing economies, industry, new construction, energy businesses, IT and banking. As some tweeters have pointed out, all homes are not huts, every country is not at war, and not all African children have flies on their faces.

“We are attempting to change the fixated face of Africa from the dying, malnourished child, to healthy children playing,” says Moeketsi, the father of a 3-year-old son. “Hopefully, we can shed new light on our continent to those who have never been here and those who have been told by the negative images not to come.”

Maseru in the evening.

Images as narrative
Some in the Western world, as well as some on the African continent, see the media bombardment of African images of poverty and disease as a holdover from colonialism. Back then, it was the so-called African savages who needed to be civilized. Today’s images continue to depict African countries as powerless and in need of outsiders to take care of them rather than seeing African countries as equals in the community of nations. “By providing other images of Africa, we’re putting our continent on equal footing on the world map,” says Moeketsi. “We’re giving people an alternative, allowing them to learn about Africa’s strengths and beauty, and think about African countries as places to invest in or where they can take an extended vacation … like they would countries in Europe.”

Moeketsi joined the social media revolution a few years ago, tweeting several images he had taken with his Canon EOS. One of the favorite places in Lesotho for this sky-diving and bungee-jumping enthusiast is the scenery around Katse Dam. A photo he tweeted of its calm waters is now being used by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (@VisitLesotho). “This hashtag is doing wonders for Africa,” says Moeketsi. “It’s allowing us to depict Africa exactly how we see it on a daily basis and how we would like others to see it who haven’t been here. We have our share of misfortunes, but what country doesn’t? Homeless people litter the streets of even the wealthiest nations, and yet that has not been reason enough to never zoom in on their beauty. It will always be important to show the troubles so that they are addressed, but it’s equally as important to show the good so that it can be appreciated.”

See more of Moeketsi’s photography on Twitter: @Mocats_ .

Maisie Sparks is a writer and author. Her latest book is 151 Things God Can’t Do.