There’s an old saying that we should never let a good crisis go to waste, meaning that a crisis can be used to improve aspects of our lives—as in our lifestyles, mental and spiritual health, etc. The Easter message certainly invites us to trust God’s power to transform our lives into something better. Our chances of experiencing the COVID-19 crisis and the power of God to transform us will be much greater if we regularly practice a variety of spiritual disciplines. These disciplines help us maintain a vibrant spiritual center (or find a center, if we’ve never had one).
One such discipline is the prayer of Examen (to examine). The Examen is a discipline of prayerful awareness. It’s a way of reflecting on our day and becoming more mindful of God’s presence, where we have experienced grace or goodness, and where there is room for growth in our lives. The following steps are intended to lead people in an Examen for life during COVID-19. (adapted from an article by Susan Haarman, Loyola University, Chicago)
To begin, get in a comfortable position; take a deep breath (several, if necessary), and relax. Settle yourself, like a flat rock settling softly on the bottom of a lake. Then:
1. Get in touch with your thoughts and feelings in this moment. If that’s difficult, and it’s hard to be calm, say so—acknowledge that reality. God wants to be present in all parts of our lives, not just the easy parts.
2. Think back over the past 12 hours or so; what were the events of those hours? What were your interactions with other people like—your thoughts, responses, feelings, and intentions? You’re not trying to justify or rationalize your thoughts or behaviors; you’re just getting in touch with them, and naming them. It’s called self-awareness. As you reflect over the past day, ask yourself where God was in the events of the day? What reasons do you see to be grateful? Also, ask yourself, “In what parts of the day was I cooperating with God?” “In what parts was I resisting God—or following the lure of something other than God’s wishes? Where might I have gotten in God’s way?” The Prayer of Examen is a way to recalibrate our hearts daily; it’s a way to help us stay on track with God.
3. Take a moment to think about how COVID-19 has impacted your life. Even as we are being asked to distance ourselves from others physically, ask yourself what connections you are still grateful for? Who/what makes you feel grounded and connected to God?
4. Public health issues have a way of making us realize how interwoven our lives are with others in society. Who are the persons you don’t connect with normally, but who may be especially affected by COVID-19? (Restaurant workers, poultry plant workers, food processors, delivery drivers…all are suppliers of the food chain.) Who do you normally choose to reach out to and connect with? Who do you typically avoid or refuse to see?
5. What thoughts and emotions are you aware of as you think of these people? In what ways might God be speaking to you about these people?
6. As you think of the ways you are connected or disconnected to others, choose a connection (or the lack thereof) that manifests itself most strongly in your consciousness. Reflect on where you’re being invited to grow in this situation. Spend some time praying about it.
7. In this time of physical separation, what is one way you can maintain meaningful connections to others?
8. Take another deep breath and a moment of relaxed quietness. When you are ready, return to your day.
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:16-17).
Phil Kanagy, Pastor