In honour of our Wednesday night Evensong contemplative services beginning their 20th year, we have been using the Examen, a daily contemplative spiritual practice, to guide us through these Sundays of September and early October. Today we are at step 3 of the process, which is to “Review the Day – carefully looking back at the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.”
When we think of “looking back at the day just completed” it reminds me that the way we approach a day at the start of the day, and as we are living it, will have a huge influence on how we review or assess the day once it is done. If the day begins with a decision to be mindful of your own self and surroundings, and present to the words and actions of others, any day will have more to offer. Developing habits of being attentive and present to what is in front of me right now rather than preoccupied with other concerns, truly listening to what others are saying rather than formulating and rehearsing your response before they’ve even had their say, will make it a lot more fulfilling day when you’re living it and when you’re reflecting on it at day’s end.
Related to being present and paying attention, is intention. My intention or when entering a day, will colour not just how I remember it, but how I live it. Twenty years ago, we had a significant loss in our family, when my sister in law Laurie died, just prior to what would have been her 45th birthday. All of us in my family were jangled by that, and challenged by depression and hopelessness. A family counsellor helped us to get past judging ourselves for what we were feeling, but she also gently suggested that we identify family behaviours that were inviting these negative thoughts and perspectives. From that, we developed a daily practice that continues to this day.
Each day, before supper, each person around the table is invited to name something that happened that day, that they are thankful for. It could be big, it could be small, it could be very specific to the day or an overall sense of gratitude. Some days, especially if had been one of those terrible, no-good very bad days, it was hard to come up a note of thanks. But it helped, knowing at the beginning of the day that we’d be asked to come up with at least one good thing at the end of the day – there was a gentle accountability to that – and it got a bit easier as time went along, to always find something positive, even if that positive something wasn’t all that dazzling. And we persevered with it to this day, because we decided as a group that a day in which one good thing has happened, can be judged to be a good day.
Our Psalm for this day, read and sung at the beginning of the service, is Psalm 118. This psalm is built for worship, and indeed it has been used in Jewish festivals for a very long time. Parts of the Psalm point to entering the Temple, other parts appear to have be written for the King to speak aloud, and taken together, all of it speaks praise to God. And while I can imagine this Psalm within a big gathering at the Jerusalem Temple and a degree of pomp and circumstance, I also acknowledge that verse 24 – “This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” – is something that is true each day it is read. Not just at Passover, or Hannukah, or in our Christian services on Easter Sunday, but on any day. Just like our family practice, of recalling something to be thankful for every day, no matter what the date is on the calendar, this day is a gift from God, to be embraced and engaged as pure opportunity.
Problem is… I can say that. To a large extent, the only thing stopping me from seizing this day and living it to its fullest, are barriers of my own making. But that’s not the case everywhere or for everyone, and that is something for us address as people of faith.
- Breonna Taylor had finished her shift as an Emergency Medical Officer, and while I have no idea whether she’d had a great day or a challenging day at work, nothing in the day suggested that it would be her final day on earth.
- Young Phyllis Webstad had been having a great day, proudly wearing her orange shirt for her first day of Residential School, much in the way that I remember having a new outfit for the first day of school when I was a young child. The rest of her day and the rest of that year and the years that followed, as her shiny orange shirt was taken away and the lines of power made clear, told her that such happiness was not for her to enjoy.
- Planet earth herself has been having some reasonably good days recently as COVID restrictions have been keeping us generally closer to home. We’re using a lot more single-use disposables than were being used a year ago – at least I have – but in general, you can almost hear the earth issue a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, I also sense the earth quaking in fear, worried that us humans will have learned nothing lasting about global sustainability in these months and that we’ll be catching up for lost time once we can move about more freely.
- And, any number of people who have had to flee a situation – because of war, because of bigotry, because of domestic violence or homophobia or transphobia – will speak of how hard it is to have your life arbitrarily limited while others live freely. The circles of safety and care and full accessibility that are provided by societies and communities of faith need to embrace all people, and our broken world is far removed from that in the year 2020.
Step three of the Examen invites us to survey the day, guided by the Holy Spirit, and the examination of a day always includes an honest look at these difficult places. “Look here” the Spirit will say to us as she points out these places of limitation or injustice, and once we have seen these shortfalls, addressing them becomes part of our agenda as travellers on the road of life, and followers of Jesus Christ. I still embrace the goodness of each day, I express gratitude to God for the day, but I do so knowing that until all of my siblings in this whole wide world have full access to the advantages that I have, the day isn’t everything is could have been, and my joy is tempered and incomplete.
We are so tremendously fortunate, to live where we live… to be able to gather here, outdoors where there is plenty of space and fresh air and glorious scenery… to have relationships that sustain and support us, and to be in the presence of many of those same friends and loved ones today. All these notes of thankfulness turn into praise, even as we hold just as fervent prayers for all people on this planet who just barely subsist, and those who deal with chronic pain or trauma, and those who have been betrayed or shunned by former places of care or always kept on the perimeter of acceptance, and for all living beings of the earth already jeopardized by climate change. Our thankfulness gains traction when coupled with a commitment to be part of the move toward positive, love-expanding change.
And so we assess this day, with eyes and ears and hearts wide open. We take in the problems, we recognize the positives, we enjoy one another’s supportive company, and we recommit ourselves to Christ’s vision of a world where none will hunger or thirst or fear. This is the day that God has made; in all of our intentions and actions, let us rejoice, and be glad. Amen.
Greater Good Mindfulness. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition
McKelvey, Michael G. https://journal.rts.edu/article/messianic-nature-psalm-118/
Orange Shirt Day. https://www.orangeshirtday.org/
Weiser, Artur. The Psalms (Old Testament Library). Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962.
Wikipedia. “Hallel.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallel
© 2020 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church