It’s Sunday. I started off the day sitting in front of the fire reading, praying, thinking about life. My friend Rita suggested in a phone call Friday that I take time to do the prayer of examen again – sitting still and listening for what brings life to me and what takes life away. It’s an exercise I have done in the past, taking weeks to record what I hear, searching for patterns of life and patterns of death.
The things that bring me life center on my creative soul: working with wool and cotton yarn; smelling fresh air and hearing birdsong again after long winter months of closed windows and silence; bringing color into my home through art and flowers; the pink blooms on my bougainvillea; new tile on my floor; watching the colors of the sunrise while toasty warm in my flannel sheets under down quilts; decluttering my home so as to create space for family, friends and God’s peace.
The things that take life from me are those that hammer against my soul: self-condemnation and criticism that I am too fat, too old; feeling “less than” or a failure for all the mistakes I have made and all the things I chose that in the end cost me and those I love more pain than maybe it would have cost had I stayed where I was and endured. Life oozes out of my soul when I let myself think that I will be alone forever, that no one sees me or knows me, that the crushing weight of being a single mom is what defines me and that there is no place where I am truly transparent and truly known.
In doing the examen over time I begin to see what I am hungry for. I will see the “food” that nourishes my soul and the “food” that may taste sweet but kills in the end. Oftentimes the end result of weeks of examen is that I remember who I am, I remember what brings me joy, and I realize where I have allowed myself to be robbed of that which is life-giving to me.
This theme of examen continued on at church. I decided to bring some yarn with me to crochet while listening to the sermon. Sometimes I attend better when my hands are busy at a repetitive pattern. Today I was adding a beautiful soft white cotton yarn into vibrant red wool and I loved how the colors were contrasting with each other.
The sermon focused on Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath by gleaning wheat kernels. The question became – what are my expectations, what do I believe I must do within the “laws” of being a proper Christian? Are there expectations I have of myself or others that are not from God and as such are robbing me of life? Where do I bind myself to lies? Where do I let others bind me by their own brokenness, their own places where they are letting their life be taken away?
I closed my eyes and saw myself struggling over my decision to enter a doctoral program. Do I find joy in the school process? Does my creative soul thrill to it? Who did God create me to be? I had been critical of my decision to go forward with the doctorate. Too much time, too much work, too expensive, too old, too tired; what will people think?
And then, I had a moment of vision into a new space. Color, the smell of books freshly opened, classical music in my ears while I read by the fire or out on my deck in the warm sun, highlighter in hand; learning, thinking, analyzing, writing. The thrill of all it means to me and the delight I have in it – isn’t that who God created me to be? Why would I think otherwise? Am I willing to jump into this new journey of gleaning wheat kernels on the Sabbath with Jesus?
As I stood in that space, eyes closed, seeing the wheat fields and Jesus there looking at me, I realized that I have been hiding from God, thinking he was disapproving of my decision to take on the doctoral program. I had been fearful that he, too, was thinking all those things about me that I think when I am self-condemning. I realized that I had been afraid to turn to him and face him. At first I thought it was because I would see his disapproval of me. But the more I sat with my fear, the more I saw that I was really afraid that if I looked into his eyes I would see a love so rich and deep and ancient and alive that I would not be able to bear it because it would mean that what brought me joy brought him joy as well. I was afraid that wool yarn and color and birdsong and peeking out from under the covers to watch the sky flame with growing light against bare winter trees would be what made God happy, and that his happiness would be mine.
And so, I let it go. I let go the lie that my love of books and research and writing and all that yumminess is wrong for me. I let go the lie that I can’t glean the wheat with Jesus on the Sabbath. Instead, in my mind’s eye, I stood in the warm field, barefoot, dirt on my feet, a rough cloth bag slung over my shoulder within which were books, a laptop, a highlighter and a snack. I put my hand out to touch the wheat kernels, feeling their goodness, smelling the richness of that place and time, then slipped my hand into God’s as we walked onward together.
That’s what I love about examen – I find life again, food for the journey, and a deep sense of God’s love and presence with me. For more on the prayer of examen I would recommend the book, Sleeping with Bread: Holding what Gives You Life by Dennis Linn et al.