Take a moment and ponder the things that populate your prayers. Praying for people who are sick, or in distress. Praying for care of creation, for justice, for the poor. Praying for favorable weather. Praying for answers to questions. Praying for safe travels. Praying for things that feel finite.
On my recent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director my practices of morning prayer and of daily Examen (review at the end of the day). Practices which when engaged in faithfully, have shaped and continue to shape my way of being. Practices which some days I yearn for, and other days not so much, when I am tired and empty, though these are the days I most need to attend to these practices.
Because the point of it all is not that I can engage in an action of praying, but that it is intentional time in conversation with God. In particular I have come to value the Examen as a way of looking back and saying, "that's where I saw you, God." Often times those are moments that make me smile. Sometimes those are moments when God's word I needed to hear came in the form of challenge.
As I look ahead to the ending of internship, the graduation of LC#1 and her transitions, and the uncertainty of many things, my director provided me with an article as old as LC#2, written by Dennis Hamm, S.J., entitled "Rummaging for God:Praying Backward Through Your Day."
Hamm lifts up that we hear and perceive God in creation, in the Scriptures ("the Word of God), in the authoritative teaching of the Church, and by attending to our experience and interpreting it in light of all those other ways of hearing the divine voice.
Hamm's suggestion about the use of the Examen begins as one might expect:
1. Pray for light, a sense of how the Spirit might be leading us, of "graced understanding...help me understand this blooming, buzzing confusion."
2. Review the day in thanksgiving, thankful for the Lord in every gift you encounter.
3. Review the feelings of the day and pay attention to them: "delight, boredom, fear, anticipation, resentment, anger, peace, contentment, impatience, desire, hope, regret, shame, uncertainty, compassion, disgust, gratitude, pride, rage, doubt, confidence, admiration, shyness."
4. Choose one of these feelings and pray from it. This feeling is a sign that something important is going on. He urges "express spontaneously the prayer that surfaces-praise, petition, contrition, cry for help, whatever."
All beneficial, yet it is the last step that is in essence the Examen in reverse.
Look toward tomorrow
As you look at what you know you will face- tasks, meetings, appointments, people-what are your feelings?
Whatever it is, turn it into prayer.
Praying God's presence and activity into the time.
I sense this as a wonderful way of addressing that sense of losing perspective that emotions can bring.
A prayer we pray not because God won't show up if we don't- but a gift to us of centering in advance. Of remaining open to God's activity and presence.
For myself, I have begun to live in this approach and have found that by nature then my morning prayer is simply a continuation of the conversation started the night before. Where I again remind myself of those things my day will hold, giving thanks for the gift of the day and all its possibilities, and again praying God's presence into the day.
When I came back from the retreat, I participated in a conversation with Martha Grace, the author of Unbinding the Gospel. A book addressing evangelism and lifting up the central role that prayer relationships have in shaping and inspiring ministry. That when we purposefully share a prayer life together and share what follows, we become much more comfortable talking about where we have seen God and what it means for us. Then we come alive and can share this experience with others because we need to share. We move away from "private faith" and into living faith in new ways.
While historically I have been a person who likes to have things "in control," in many ways I have realized over the last several years, how silly that notion is. Yet using this type of reverse Examen allows me to live one step farther.
As I contemplate each day, I am not only praying for my own feelings into the day, but also for all of the people who need to hear a word from God, that they might be drawn to our parish. That those in need might find God here. And I don't need to know who they will be. Only that they come and that we will be open.
Praying God into situations not only as "give me _____" though this is not wrong. Praying and trusting God to be at work and inviting God's surprise.
Since then, truly amazing encounters have happened, and events have taken turns I could not have seen, and my conversation with God is coming full circle.
All because God showed me how to reverse the process.