Feeling stuck with a looming decision?
Stuck in or overwhelmed with a feeling?
Curious to discover the wisdom in your nighttime dream (perhaps about your looming decision!)?
Or maybe you resonate with my daughter who recently said, "I just can't do words or thinking right now."
No matter how old you are, it's time to get out the playdough! (or clay or Model Magic, your choice)
And no, you do not have to be an artistic type of person! Let that inner kid of yours who knows how to squish, twist, pull, flatten, bend, and roll grab a handful of playdough.
Now pick one of these 3 practices and see what happens:
Awareness Examen with Playdough
Notice what literally and figuratively emerges as you enter into this 16th century prayerful review of your day or week.
Moving Through Feelings with Playdough
Rather than trying hard to let go, discover what happens when you move through your emotions.
Sculpt a Dream Image
Dream images are often metaphors and symbols of different parts of ourselves/our lives. They offer us wisdom for waking life as we tend to them.
Who knew playdough could be part of our spiritual practice and way of discernment?! Playdough is not just for kids! Actually, it's for all of us kids at heart who often get stuck in our heads yet are open to the creative, childlike ways the Spirit offers freedom and wisdom.
Spiritual practices, like meditation and even church-going, can become spiritual bypass—ways of bypassing reality both outside and inside of us, dissociating from wounds within and without, ignoring the healing work that needs to be done in our inner and outer world.
But spiritual practices can also be vehicles for transformation of both ourselves and our world.
How?—by giving us new ways of seeing and being (which is the whole point of authentic spiritual practice).
Let’s take a look at a few practices...
Conscious Breathing: With as little as 10 slow, complete exhales and 10 full, relaxed inhales, we can calm the fight, flight, freeze survival impulse, allowing us to move from a reactive, closed off, defensive place to a receptive, open, deeper place.
Centering Prayer: Through daily practice of 20 minutes of silent surrendering to God’s presence & action, we let go of our ego-drivenness and receive inner healing of compulsions and soul wounds. Not only does this bring personal freedom but it releases us from projecting our compulsions and wounds on others and passing them down to our children.
Lectio Divina: Spiritual reading allows a word or phrase in a small portion of inspired text, whether sacred Scriptures like the Psalms or a poem, to speak to us. Rather than bringing what we already know or studying it, we allow the text to study us! As we bring our story, our lives, to it, we humbly listen for the wisdom and guidance being offered (which may be encouragement to see a counselor or write a letter to your senator!).
Awareness Examen: Looking over our lives at the end of the day through the eyes of God helps us become aware of God’s life-giving presence and action (and the times throughout the day when we were unaware or resistant). The patterns of what is life-giving and life-draining help us discern who we are and what we are to offer this world.
Silent Retreats: Extended time in silence and solitude creates space for our souls to rest and play which opens us to better hear the “still, small voice” which may be drowned out by the external noise of daily life or the internal noise of comparing ourselves to others.
There are so many practices I could list here but the point isn’t the practice itself, it’s the “fruit.”
Seated meditation may not fit you. You may desire some kind of moving meditation, like dance or qigong. Or you may prefer to spend time in nature or doing art.
What practices have you found that cultivate love in you? What helps you have eyes to see and tend to the suffering both inside yourself and in others? Which ways of wisdom help you discern what is yours to offer this world (not out of compulsion but compassion)? A Spiritual Director can companion you on this journey of discovery of spiritual practices.
But remember, it’s not necessarily the practices, it’s the humans who are transformed by these practices, that this world needs. What do spiritual practices like Centering Prayer offer a hurting world?—YOU!
Looking for a Personal or Family Prayer Practice for Lent? Try the Ancient Awareness Examen
While not mentioned in the Bible, Lent, a season of self-examination and penitence leading up to Easter, has been observed by Christians since the 2nd century. It evolved into the current 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday in the 6th century.
When it comes to self-examinations, my favorite is the 16th century Awareness Examen by Saint Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuit religious order). He thought examining the moments of "consolation" and "desolation" to be so instrumental to one's prayer life that during the Council of Trent when the Jesuits asked if they could skip their prayer exercises because they were so busy, his response was they could skip anything but the Examen. Noticing God's presence in their daily lives would help them best draw near to and follow God during such a busy time.
As we draw near to God though examining our daily life, we discover three gifts--balance, wholeness and discernment.
Rather than rushing through a day and labeling it all "good" or "bad," I can gently look back over it, discovering there was more than met my hurried eye. Moments I thought insignificant end up being full of meaning, at times offering a completely different or at least a more balanced perspective of the day I labeled.
Rather than being a product of my personality, the lens with which I view the world is offered a gentle corrective. Perhaps you're like one of my children who sees the world through a more negative lens, it's harder for her to remember her happiest moment in a given day. Or you may see the world through overly-positive eyes, ignoring the moments of anger and sadness. No matter what our lens, the Examen helps us consider parts of our day and ourselves we may not naturally see. As we do, we are reminded that God welcomes the whole of us and is fully with us in and speaking through every kind of moment.
Rather than letting life live me, regularly engaging the Examen and even keeping a record of my reflections offer keys for discernment from my own life to guide my life. Looking back over our moments of "consolation" and "desolation" we may see themes and patterns emerge. Clarity for decisions and callings become apparent in reviewing what has been life-giving and life-draining or where God's presence has been most experienced.
This prayerful look over one's day or week can be done daily or weekly after dinner-time or before going to sleep. We can practice it privately or communally. Both children and adults can engage the Examen which takes about 15 minutes. So find a quiet place, a family member or friend, and begin your time of reflection.
A version of St. Ignatius’ 16th century prayer by Kasey Hitt (2006-2007), Mark Yaconelli's Sabbath Retreat (2003), and Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn’s book, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life.
You might choose to light a candle as a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence, take a few slow, deep breaths, place your hand on your heart, or pray this Psalm, “God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Events of the Day
Ask God to help you look over your day (or week) and bring to your mind & heart the following two questions. (Choose one set beforehand)
For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?
When did I feel the most alive today?
When did I most feel life draining out of me today?
When did I feel closest to God (or sense I was moving toward God) today?
When did I feel most distant from God (or sense I was moving away from God) today?
For young children:
When were you happiest today?
When were you maddest or saddest today?
What did you feel good about today?
What was your biggest struggle today (when did you feel sad, helpless or angry)?
Thanksgiving & Forgiveness
Hang out in your moment of thanksgiving, relive it in your mind's eye as a way of gratitude. Receive again the gifts offered to you in that moment and offer thanks to God.
Recall the moment you are least grateful for without trying to change or fix it; be open to receive from God whatever God would like to offer. It may be the invitation to repentance, forgiveness, comfort, instruction, the nudge to ask for help, etc.
Help for Tomorrow
In your own words, thank God for today and ask God for help for tomorrow, whatever the need may be. Or close with this prayer:
"God, thank you for the ways you are with us everyday, in every moment, loving us just as much in our best moments as in our worst. May we place this day in Your hands and trust that you will guide, teach and companion us through the day tomorrow. Help us learn to notice Your presence and invitations in our lives. In Christ's Name, Amen."
If doing the Examen with others, share your two moments and allow your prayer for one another to flow from the sharing. Whether alone or with others, I hope you'll try this prayer practice at least 7 times over the next 7 weeks and see what happens! You might choose to keep a journal so at the end you can look back and see what patterns emerge offering discernment. Blessings to you this Lenten season!
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.