Category Archives: Reflections

New Year’s Examen

Looking back over the year, with God.

If you have time today, why not do an annual “examen”? St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, encouraged us to do a daily “examen,” or “examination of conscience,” where we look back over the day to see where God has been active. It’s a way to help us notice, be grateful and experience the desire for change.

You can do it for a whole year too, and Dec. 31 is the perfect time. Here’s how. Give yourself some time, maybe 30 minutes or so. Or longer if it’s been an eventful year.

1.) Remember that you’re in God’s presence. That’s essential for any prayer. It’s not just you running through a list or talking to yourself. You’re doing it with God. Ignatius used to recommend actually looking at they physical place where you’ll be praying (a chair, on the floor, in a pew) and imagine God looking at you. It helps you to remember God is with you. Or you could simply invite God to be with you. God’s always with us, but it’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially when we pray.

2.) Call to mind what you’re grateful for. Think of all the wonderful things that happened to you this year. Take your time to do this. Savor them, like you’d savor a good meal. And give thanks to God for them. Even if you’ve had a bad year, call to mind what you’re grateful for. You may be surprised by how many wonderful events you’ve forgotten about. Know that these are God’s gifts to you.

3.) Review the year. Of course you can’t do this day by day, but perhaps go month by month. Or just do it by topic–family, friends, work, and so on. Cast your mind back over the year. Notice where God was present, where you said yes to God’s invitation to greater love. Where God loved you. Notice.

4.) Express your sorrow. Surely in the space of 365 days you’ve done some things you regret. Tell God you’re sorry. If you’ve really harmed someone, the last day of the year is a good time to seek forgiveness. Think about going to confession if you’re Catholic and conscious of grave sin. But don’t wallow in your sins: remember you’re human and we all make mistakes.

5.) Ask God for the grace to live 2017 as a good person. All of us have things that we’ll need God’s grace to face: health problems, financial problems, family problems, work problems. So ask God for help. Be specific about what you need. St. Ignatius often encouraged people to pray for what they want and need. Finally, ask for the grace to see God’s presence in the new year.

And throw in a prayer for me too. I need help too.

Happy New Year!

–Orginally posted on the Facebook page of Father James Martin, SJ. Click here to go to the original post on Facebook.

Sunset from Volunteer Park, Seattle, Washington -- December 20, 2016

Sunset from Volunteer Park, Seattle, Washington — December 20, 2016

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Rejoice!

I’ve had a pretty bad last few days. A friend of mine hurt my feelings pretty bad the day before Thanksgiving. And then I spent Thanksgiving alone, which was a first for me and, although I actually enjoyed it, it was sad not being with my family or close friends. And then over the weekend, a person I’ve been romantically interested in for a year or so, and very good friends with for almost two years, gave me some news. I knew he had been interested in another guy for quite some time. But on Sunday, he dropped a bomb on me and let me know that they had decided to get married. It really hurt. I’ve been super upset since then.

And so for the last few days, I’ve been lost in my thoughts. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t wanted to talk to anyone. I’ve been very introspective and contemplative. I’m wondering why God is bringing me this pain right now as I approach the 1-year anniversary of my mother’s death, and as I am still so unsettled and confused after the recent presidential election. What is God trying to show me in all of this? Is God even there? Is there any hope to be found in all of this? Why does my future all of a sudden look so empty, so lonely, so sad?

In the midst of all of this, I’ve been distracted with the fact that it is the beginning of the Advent season, one of the most beautiful, meaningful, and sacred times of the year to me. Over the weekend, I set up my Christmas tree and made a homemade Advent wreath. And this past Sunday night, the first night of Advent, I attended a truly sublime Advent Lessons and Carols service at my church. The service ended with a profoundly beautiful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Three different choirs alternated singing verses along with the church filled with around 500 people. It was uplifting and spine tingling. And since then, I’ve been singing the song in my head over and over.

Tonight, on the car ride home from work, as I was stuck in gobs of traffic, I put “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on the stereo. I found myself meditating on the refrain:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

And it just hit me. Why am I consuming myself with sadness, and bitterness, and hopelessness? God is with me (Emmanuel!) in the midst of all of this. In spite of all of these bad feelings, I should rejoice in knowing that God’s peace is within reach. God’s grace and love and care surround me and are within me, no matter what befalls me. I shouldn’t be sad, rather I should rejoice in knowing these things.

And peace began to wash over me. It’s amazing how God can speak to us in the most mundane of ways. I think it speaks to the wonder of who and what God is…God is with us, in the midst of our daily lives. In the stranger, in the gentle breeze that blows, in the storm clouds that thunder and rain, in the raging fire, and in the swells of the sea. God’s presence supersedes all that we experience, and all we must do is listen with our eyes and we will hear it through all of our senses.

God’s peace does, indeed, surpass all understanding. And for this, I am truly thankful.

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Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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There is a River

Compline Underground

I’m writing this on what we Christians in the Western tradition celebrate as the last day of the Christian year. It is the day before the first of four Sundays of Advent, the time of waiting and expectation before Christmas.

It’s probable that for many Western Christians, even those who belong to a “liturgical” church, the turning of the new year has little significance, especially when it has to compete with other demands – such as the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush, and planning (and dreading?) the added tasks of Christmas preparation.

Add to this the aftermath of a very bitter and divisive election in the U.S., and it’s entirely possible to be sidetracked from thinking about Advent at all. If this is the case for you, I highly recommend reading a very insightful and inspiring post by Jim Friedrich, in his blog The Religious Imagineer. In it he suggests seven…

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Within our darkest night

I’ve been really distraught these last few weeks. After the results of the election, I was angry, confused, scared, disgusted, hopeless. I was mad at God. I felt like we had been abandoned. That God’s guiding hand let go of us and evil has taken hold of our country.

Talks of white supremacists entering positions of power in our country. Talks of closing our border to immigrants and refugees based solely on their religion. Talks of making Muslims register their religion with the government. Hate crimes are on the rise. Blatant disregard for the basic principles on which our country was founded are being disregarded for the narrow and self-serving view of a small group of narrow-minded people whose primary driver is fear.

But I find myself continually turning to God for strength. God is always there…in our pain and in our joy, in our sureness and in our confusion, in our strength and in our weakness. It’s okay to be mad at God. It’s okay to need a break now and then. But in the end, God is always with us in the midst of all our struggles and all of our celebrations.

I find myself singing this song in my head a lot lately. It brings me strength and confidence that in spite of the failures our human society might make, there is still a spark of hope within each of us. Let us never give up on that spark of hope that is within each of us…even those of us who may exhibit darkness or evil actions toward others.

Within our darkest night you kindle a fire that never dies away, that never dies away.

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Exploding with Compassion

My heart explodes with compassion. Sometimes I want to run up to every single person I pass and tell them that I love them. This feeling is strongest when I encounter people who exude anger or hostility toward me or others. I believe that they who often exude that anger or hostility do so out of fear or mistrust or negativity that has been inflicted upon them.

Last night, I encountered compassion on foot. I walked side by side with Love. I witnessed God’s Spirit moving through the streets of Capitol Hill in Seattle through and with the hundreds of people of all faiths and no faith as they walked from one Cathedral to another. We walked to show that Love Wins and that God is Love, not hate. We walked to tell the city and the nation and the world that God relishes in compassion and mercy, and God mourns with us as we cry out in lament after the heinous murders in Orlando and so many, many, many other cities.

We walked in memory of the all victims of gun violence. We walked to lament the continued unaddressed issues of gun violence in our country. We walked to show that people of faith stand on the side of justice, and that those other people of faith who express hate and hostility towards those not like them do not represent us.

I follow the religion of love wherever love is found,
for love is my religion and my faith.
Holy, holy, holy,
You are the Lord God.
Heaven and earth
are full of your glory.

Kyrie eleison, eleison.

Images of our walk through Capitol Hill, starting at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral and ending at St. James Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Images of our walk through Capitol Hill, starting at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral and ending at St. James Roman Catholic Cathedral, Seattle, Washington.

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Holy Saturday: A Reflection

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This year, Holy Saturday is hitting me a little differently. This is normally a day that I forget about. I quickly move from the celebrations of Maundy Thursday (Christ’s last supper and footwashing), to Good Friday (remembering his death on the cross), and then often move my thoughts directly to the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter. However, this year I find myself contemplating the depth of Holy Saturday.

Why have I always rushed past it? Why is it an often forgotten about observation? This is the day we remember Christ being laid in the tomb. Perhaps it is because this is the most painful part. There is no more body for us to see on the cross. No more body to be prepared for burial, wrapped in linens and spices. The body is no longer in our midst. It is buried, sealed away in the tomb…for now.

We all are living in our own versions of Holy Saturday. Personally, I feel a connection with the recent loss of my mother. She died a few months ago, and this time without her is a sort of perpetual Holy Saturday. Her body is no longer with me. She has returned to the earth…for now. She is already living in light perpetual in the presence of God and all the saints, but for me, and my earthly body, I can no longer be with her. Not until I join her in the light of God’s presence.

But this is the hardest time. It is the time between the death and the rising for my eyes that I am living in. It is the hardest time. The time when faith is tried the most. When fears can easily give way to doubt. When the love I once knew so well can turn into remorse or anger. It is through Christ’s example of life, suffering, death, and resurrection that I can rest assured that my mother and I will be reunited someday. On her death bed, I told her that I believe when she awakes in heaven, we will all already be there together, resurrected in the time of eternity in the presence of God. Time has no meaning to God, and I believe that when we die of our earthly bodies, we not only enter our heavenly bodies, but we enter the realm of God’s time, where all earthly boundaries and explanations lose their meaning.

Mom is already with me. But for me, now, in this earthly body, I am living in a sort of ongoing Holy Saturday. We have Christ to thank for unlocking the gates of heaven for all of creation to receive the free gift of salvation into eternal life. Thanks be to God!

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In Memoriam: Marcus Borg

It was back in 2008 that I discovered a book that would forever restore my faith in God: Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. I had recently made a rediscovery of my own: church. I had been absent from church for many, many years. I had most recently been in attendance at an evangelical mega church, which I stopped attending when I moved out of my parents’ house. The experiences at that church had left a bad taste in my mouth for organized religion (though, surprisingly, the people at that church reject the term “religion” and any sort of organization, even though it is all the same thing).

I had rediscovered church via my neighborhood Episcopal Church. The new rector (priest in charge) of the church had distributed friendly welcome letters to the neighbors, inviting all who sought a deeper relationship with God to join them for worship in a beautiful historic jewel of a chapel with a magnificent pipe organ and a diverse congregation that welcomed all seekers. It sounded perfect. My life has changed for the better since I walked in to that church.

Soon after I began attending the Episcopal Church, my visits to the local book store started to focus more on the Religion & Spirituality section. I remember finding Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, on one of the feature tables. The subtitle (Rediscovering a Life of Faith) stood out to me. I knew nothing of Marcus Borg, but thought I’d give the book a try.

I am forever grateful for the words Marcus wrote in this book. In the book, Marcus makes it quite clear that you can, indeed, be Christian and not believe in many of the things that made me doubt my faith for years. Things like biblical infallibility, and homosexuality as a sin, and not including women in the ministry. Those things just scratched the surface of so many things that made me lose my faith in God. I didn’t want to claim a faith that taught it laid claim to the ultimate truth, and that one had to believe those things in order to be in right relationship with God and to be a true Christian.

In thumbing through my cherished copy of his book, there is one statement that I underlined and noted on the inside cover as particularly meaningful to me. A statement straight from Marcus’s heart. On page 149, Marcus says:

Though of course I would like you to agree with me, I am less concerned with soliciting agreement than I am with provoking thoughtfulness about the way our life together is, and could be, structured.

I think this one sentence really sums up how Marcus Borg did theology. He did theology in a heartfelt, meaningful, genuine way that was concerned more with the dialogue and the questions and the seeking than with answers and certainty and agreement.

It is my hope that the legacy and spirit of Marcus Borg lives on forever in the lives of those of us whom his writings touch. I, for one, will always be grateful to Borg’s witness to his walk with God, and his unabashedly honest understanding of faith, which was never a certainty, and always a journey. Too many conservative Christians have dismissed Borg because of his radical honesty in living out his faith, his rejection of orthodox theology, and his embrace of doubt as an essential part of a healthy faith.

For my and for others’ benefit, I wanted to share a few other meaningful excerpts from The Heart of Christianity that stood out to me, and that I think show just where Marcus’s heart was. I hope that his understanding of God in these words speaks to you like it did to me.

And if [your vision of Christianity] works for you–if it hasn’t become an obstacle and if it genuinely nourishes your life with God and produces growth and compassion within you—there’s no reason for you to change. Being Christian isn’t about getting our beliefs (or our paradigm) “right.” –p. 18

When [the literal versus metaphorical] debate breaks out in my classroom, I say to my students, “Believe whatever you want about whether it happened this way; now let’s talk about what the story means.” The statement applies to the Genesis stories of creation, the gospel birth stories, and the stories of the Bible generally: a preoccupation with facts can obscure the metaphorical meanings and the truth of the stories as metaphor. –p. 54

The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true—that God loves us already—and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. –p. 77

When the Christian path is seen as utterly unique, it is suspect. But when Jesus is seen as the incarnation of a path universally spoken about elsewhere, the path we see in him has great credibility. –p. 119

Marcus Borg, thank you for your honest and radical witness to faith in Jesus Christ. Your witness to honest faith saved my faith in God, and showed me that one’s faith is enriched with doubt and uncertainty. Thank you for your bold words that others shunned, and for your showing me that God and ultimate truth cannot be placed inside of any one religion or definition. Your legacy will live on forever in those of us whose lives you touched and whose faith you helped form. May light perpetual shine upon you.

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