The Practice: Sunday Reflections – An Embodied Examen

This reflection was originally written for and appeared on the website of a contemplative community I’ve participated in for the last year: The Practice. You can learn more about this community–and listen to the podcast mentioned in the post–by visiting their website.

My fiancee, Katie, and I entered last night’s the Practice gathering and happened to sit next to Eric, who along with Jenna led us all on October 25 in exploring the intersection of brain science and spirituality. Eric asked Katie and me how long we’ve attended the Practice, and I realized it was about this time last year that we first started coming.

Back then, finding an ecumenical space dedicated to exploring the contemplative heritage of our own Christian tradition was nothing less than an answer to prayer. Now, almost a year into this journey with the Practice, my appreciation for these “sacred rhythms” has only deepened. Not only do we get to explore this rich heritage of Christian practices, but we all get to do it together. I’ve found more and more comfort in the way we journey together as a community when we gather, which is by using the sacred Christian “language” of the church known as the liturgy.

Our opening liturgy last night focused on seeking God and his fruits of justice and peace.

Jenna’s reading of Psalm 34 helped us call to mind the beauty of pursuing God, of seeking the Beloved and finding deliverance in him. Jason led us in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love…” St. Francis is something of a personal hero of mine because of his counterintuitively simple life. And he was so embodied and fully present that he saw the Kingdom of God in all that he saw–the healthy and lepers, the sun and moon, the sparrows and wolves, everything within the Church walls and everything without.

Doesn’t your soul thirst for such a holistic awareness?

Fr. Michael Sparough, a Jesuit priest, returned to the Practice last night to speak with us about embodied spirituality. You can listen to Fr. Michael’s message and our practice of embodiment by subscribing to the Practice podcast or by clicking the link below.

Fr. Michael led us in a practice and prayer of “the Examen,” a prayer nearly five centuries old that draws our attention to how God is speaking to us through our own experiences. This prayer, unlike much of the prayer I learned growing up, assumes that we are embodied creatures.

To be embodied means that our spiritual lives are lived out through our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. Fr. Michael began our time together by having us remove our shoes to remember that the Practice space, like all gatherings of God’s people, is holy ground. Fr. Michael led us through several physical postures and poses, e.g., palms down versus hands out, face downward versus face upward, crossing our arms versus spreading our arms in open receptivity. Through this exploration we began to sense how our body both reflects and directs our inward postures toward God. Fr. Michael showed us the importance of praying with our bodies what we were praying with our hearts.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been taught by some Christians that the body is evil. Or maybe you progressed to the point of thinking the body is “okay” but still more of a spiritual liability than a spiritual gift. But Fr. Michael reminded us that we are fully embodied creations, meaning our bodies are gifts we are called to also bring to the work God is doing in our lives of seeking justice and peace and the Kingdom of God.

Where does this positive emphasis on the body come from? The larger context is taking the Incarnation seriously, Fr. Michael said. If we believe God not only dwelt among us but became fully human and like us in all things but sin as Jesus Christ, then we cannot divorce the physical from the spiritual. Our bodies are a good gift from God. It does matter what we do with our bodies, whether that’s related to diet, exercise, rest, self-care, or any of the ways we practice abuse or neglect toward ourselves. The physical and spiritual are inherently linked.

The Examen helps us see this integrated wholeness and inherent goodness. The practice is a reflection on one’s day and how God was speaking during that day. But the practice starts positively, not negatively. Though it does have us call to mind the ways we failed to respond to God’s voice throughout the day, it first has us approach God with a spirit of gratitude. Fr. Michael articulated this powerfully: As gently as feeling a light fall on your face, so gently does God’s grace fall on us. We first recall that we are “bathed in the light of the Lord’s love.” If we start from this place of connection with God, we can then progress to reflecting on our experiences throughout the day and the ways we responded–or failed to respond–to God’s prompting in our daily lives.

Last, Aaron invited all of us to commit 10-20 minutes a day in practicing the Examen and reflecting on God speaking to us through our individual daily experiences. Would you commit with me to doing that? I know that such honest reflection is difficult and, at times, downright unattractive. But I also know that doing so allows us to “taste and see” with our whole beings, bodies and all, God’s goodness in our lives. Let’s choose to taste the goodness of God. Let’s practice the Examen together.

Peace and all good things,

Sam & The Practice Team

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