I teach Spiritual Formation to sophomores and juniors at the high school. Each Monday we begin that class by meditating through the “weekly examen.” I adapted it from a prayer practice called the “daily examen” (admittedly, it did not require a lot of innovation). The purpose of this practice is to deliberately pause in order to allow ourselves to become aware of God’s presence in the moment. We do this by reflecting on God’s presence in the past in the hope that we can be aware of the presence going forward.
I do this because life is noisy. The life of a high school student is extremely noisy. The life of their teacher is also noisy. I walk through life and it seems like every second of my day is consumed with something screaming, demanding my attention. We find ourselves in a time of increasing social and political unrest. There is no escaping it. I suspect that many of us are counting down the days until November 3rd, but deep down we know that things won’t be any quieter or settled on the 4th. The tools we use to distract ourselves have also become extremely noisy. We steal away moments here and there on our smartphones, but they never really seem to bring comfort. And so, on a Monday, knowing that all of this is happening in my life and the lives of my students, we sit down to talk about spiritual classics and scripture. Before we do that, I make us begin by sitting in quiet reflection. An attempt to reconcile the war for our attention with the still, small voice of God.
Recently, I was able to have a conversation with Mr. Head about art and faith for one of our online chapel services. We discussed some of the diary comics I sometimes make. I shared that for me, these comics have become a form of prayer. A spiritual discipline. A way to wrestle with the spiritual teachings of the Scriptures and the noise of life. I get the same reactions every time I post these comics or talk about them with friends. They think they are “cool.” Frequently, the response is, “good for you.” It generally stops there. Because I draw and they do not, what possible good can this serve them?
But the spiritual work of my comics is done in the contemplation that happens before I put pen to paper. When I am pondering the Scriptures. When I am pouring over the events of my day or the conversations I had with my students. When I am meditating on God’s promises and looking for the evidence of fulfillment to those promises in my monotonous experiences. It isn’t the drawing, it is the work of my mind and soul behind the drawing, that brings peace and clarity and hope.
This is what the Weekly Examen, and practices like it, can train us to do. They form spiritual habits that shape our minds to be aware of God’s movement all around us, amidst the chaos of politicians yelling at one another and pandemics and sick family members and bills and screaming children and flat tires and natural disasters… do I need to go on?
It is never my intention to chastise my students about video games or smartphones or sports or art or the things they spend their time on. I cannot judge how my students spend their time when I waste so much of my own. Rather, I think it is more useful to help show them how to be able to stop. To reflect. To listen. To focus.
How many of us are stunted in our spiritual growth because God stubbornly refuses to interrupt our day with a burning bush conversation? Just once, I would like to encounter an intervention from a talking donkey or frightful angel with an important message from God. Yet, God has promised to be with us, and I believe that he is true to his promise. I have less faith in my ability to live in the reality of that promise. So, I encourage you to join us in our Monday class ritual. Spend five minutes reflecting through the Weekly Examen.
The Weekly Examen
1. God, I believe at this moment I am in your presence and you are loving me.
2. God, you know my needs better than I know them. Give me your light and help to see how you have been with me, both yesterday and today.
3. God, help me be grateful for the moments when people have affirmed me and challenged me. Help me to see how I have responded, and whether I have been kind to others and open to growth.
4. God, forgive me for when I have not done my best or treated others well. Encourage me, guide me, and continue to bless me.
5. As I look to the remainder of this week, make me aware that you are with me. Show me how to be the person you want me to be.
6. Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer