The Daily Examen…a new way to enter a new year

Perhaps by now, two weeks into the new year, the resolutions made on January 1 have come and gone.  As mentioned in previous posts, for many years I was troubled at my lack of resolve and will power.  The “check list” kind of resolutions never really worked for me.

For me, rather than attempting a new list (perhaps one more manageable), I am beginning to use this time of year to reflect and meditate upon where and how God is at work.

As I look back on 2011 and ahead to 2012, many questions arise, that I believe may be more important than whether or not my check list of do’s and don’ts is complete.

Have I grown in maturity, wisdom, understanding?

Has Faith, Hope, and Love increased in my life?

Am I willing to ask others to speak into my life and be honest with me.

Did I become more irritable?   Less giving?  Has compassion given way to apathy?

I realize the difficulty in trying to discern, but I have discovered that if I take time to sit and ponder (with openness and honesty) I am able to look back on this past year and see ways in which I have grown (hopefully) and other areas that I have not.

This past week I spent a few hours in various cathedrals in Paris.  I love the atmosphere of transcendence and mystery as I embrace the Spirit of Peace.  I gaze at the stained glass, dip my fingers into the baptism fonts to remember my own, and sit looking, praying, and reflecting.  Often I will light a cancel and ask for illumination.

These moments brought me back to an earlier time in my journey when I practiced an ancient spiritual tradition called the “Examen Prayer” or “The Daily Examen”

A practice that I was first introduced to during a course on Spiritual Direction in college referred to then as The Ignatius Examen of Consciousness.

This is a wonderful spiritual discipline from the early church, practiced and made popular by the Jesuit priest St. Ignatius.The prayers and methods of praying suggested here are based on nearly five-hundred years of Jesuit spiritual tradition. They could help you grow in intimacy with God and experience Jesuit spirituality first-hand. St. Ignatius believed that he received a gift from God that not only enriched his own Christian life but was meant to be shared with others. The gift was a “method,” a way to seek and find God in all things and to gain the freedom to let God’s will be done on earth. This way of praying allowed Ignatius to discover the voice of God within his own heart and to experience a growth in familiarity with God’s will. Jesuits call this prayer their daily examen of consciousness.

The Examen of Consciousness

This is a prayer where we try to find the movement of the Spirit in our daily lives as we reflect on our day. This prayer can be made anywhere: on the beach, in a car, on the bus or metro, at home, in the library. Many people make the Examen twice daily: once around lunchtime and again before going to bed. There are five simple steps to the Examen, and what follows is just one interpretation of these five steps in discerning the movement of God’s Spirit in your day. Through this method of praying you can grow in a sense of self and the Source of self; you can become more sensitive to your own spirit with its longings, its powers, its Source; you will develop an openness to receive the supports that God offers.

1. Thanksgiving

Lord, I realize that all, even myself, is a gift from you.

– Today, for what things am I most grateful?

2. Intention
Lord, open my eyes and ears to be more honest with myself.

– Today, what do I really want for myself?

3. Examination
Lord, show me what has been happening to me and in me this day.

– Today, in what ways have I experienced your love?

4. Contrition
Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.

– Today, what choices have been inadequate responses to your love?

5. Hope
Lord, let me look with longing toward the future.

– Today, how will I let you lead me to a brighter tomorrow?

I have found that depending on the season of life, or simply depending on the mood I am in that day, some themes are more difficult than others.  Some years, Contrition is at the heart of what I need, Others times it is thanksgiving.  Hope is always there.

My professor of Spiritual Formation taught us a simplified version of The Examen, which focusses on the #3 Examination

As a prayer:

1) How have I experienced your love today?

2) How have I loved you well?

3) How have I not loved you well?  (this implies loving others as well. Love God = Love Others.)

This resolution and daily practice is worthwhile and certainly has the potential to transform this new year, for ourselves and those around us.  May we begin this year looking back in reflection to see Go’s love and provision and grace protecting and guiding us.  May we look ahead with anticipation and excitement and pray for God’s spirit to guide us in the upcoming year.
We have begun encouraging our youth and young adults to start this new year, new week, and each new day with these prayers.  During one of our weekly gatherings, we look at the life of Saint Ignatius and set aside time individually to do the Examen.
My prayer is for a renewal desire to be saturated in God’s Word each day and to have fresh eyes and ears to witness His grace all around us.
Take, Lord, and Receive Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
Whatever I have or hold, you have given me.
I return it all to you and surrender it wholly
to be governed by your will.
Give me only your love and your grace
and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.
-St. Ignatius, from the end of the Spiritual Exercises

Getting Clear with our students

Over the next few months I will be switching gears and diving into theological conversations with our high school students.  One may argue that everything we do is in fact theological, but over the next 8 weeks I will be systematically working through core doctrines of the Christian faith.

We will be using the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee.  Here is a list of the topics:

  • God
  • Jesus
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Humanity
  • Sin
  • Salvation
  • The Church
  • Heaven

I see myself much more as a practical theologian, however I still do appreciate systematic theology.  I was raised with that kind of thinking and approach to faith and do believe it has its place in our faith formation.  Over the next few weeks I will attempt to chronicle how my view of these “foundations” has changed or become clearer (or more confusing)

This whole year on Sundays we have been journeying through practical theological questions with our students.  Here is just a sampling of them:

How can a loving God allow such evil in the world?

Can it be proven that God exists?

Does God still create stuff today?

Why should I pray when God doesn’t answer all my prayers?

Do I have to believe Jesus performed miracles in order to be a Christian?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Why is there so much hate, violence, and intolerance done in the name of Christianity?

Can we find truth in other religions?

Is war ever justified?

How should Christians react to bullying?

Can we still love and include those we disagree with?

What does it look like to be a loving and inclusive community in our society?

At first glance I am sure you can tell how different those questions are from the ideas presented in Clear.

I believe that a combination of the two can be a very healthy approach in the spiritual formation of today’s adolescents.

What I appreciate about Chris’ book is that rather than attempting to present concrete answers and definitions, he offers ideas and suggestions and allows freedom for students to express their own thoughts in creative ways.  Structured within the book are intentional moments of reflection.  Here are two examples under the “Immerse”  and “Pray” sections of chapter 1: God

“Take a moment to quiet your place.  If it helps, close your eyes and take two or three deep breaths.  After you feel you’ve established a quiet place, take a few minutes to write in the space provided as many truths about God as you can bring to mind from this interaction.”

“Draw a picture that illustrates how you see God using his attributes around you each day.  After listing the attributes, take a moment to pray using very few words.”

“As you move through your day, find a place where you can sit and view as much of the sky as possible.  You won’t be able to view the entire sky without moving your eyes, so each time your eyes move, repeat this simple phrase” ‘God, you are amazing!  Nothing can contain you, for you are spatially limitless.’

As a youth pastor, I am thrilled to see such a resource out there for students, and as a help for my own teaching.  I am excited to see how this series sparks conversations and transformation with our teens.

This book is an excellent tool to help equip students in spiritual formation for the mission of God.

I intend to write a few more times updating our progress and how my students are interacting, tracking, and engaging with the themes. It will also be interesting to see how and what I teach this time around differs from when I did a similar series almost 8 years ago.

Immerse Journal

I wanted to share just a few thoughts about the new Immerse Journal for youth workers.

Immerse Journal home page

I have been waiting for a publication like this for quite some time, and have been encouraged and inspired so far by what I have read.

For those of who unaware of Immerse, here is some brief information on it.

A note from Chris Folmsbee regarding Immerse:

“Each article is meant to help youth workers in whatever context they might find themselves working to help guide students into spiritual formation for the mission of God.  Immerse is about providing youth workers with theologically robust, soul-caring and genuinely practiced tools for contextualizing the mission of God. ”

He could not have said that any better, and three issues from it birth, Immerse has proven itself true to its vision and hopes.

What I have discovered in Immerse is new ideas, theological insights, spiritual direction and formation, and an emphasis on historical and ecumenical Christianity rooted in biblical narrative of missio Dei (the mission of God)

What I also have appreciated is that under the guidance of Chris and the executive director Mike King, Immerse is providing a voice for new thinkers and youth workers.  While I have always appreciated the “experts” speaking into youth ministry issues, it has long been an issue of mine that those individuals are “the” voice of youth ministry.  They are the ones who speak at conferences and, until now, they are the ones writing for all the youth ministry magazines and books.  I get it.  They have years of experience and wisdom and we can learn a great deal.  But what about younger, fresher voices?  There has not been a platform for the unseen youth workers until Immerse jumped into the seen.

Sure, Immerse has and will continue to seek input from veterans (as they should), but will also provide all types of youth workers and thinkers a voice.  In the past few years, I have met numerous young youth workers who have amazing theological insights to youth ministry.  Some have collaborated on some writing with me and others I hope to work with in the future.  Though less “experienced” than even myself, these men and woman understand contemporary teen culture and the interplay of contextual Christianity and, I also believe represent where youth ministry is heading in the future.

Immerse, and youth ministry leaders such as Chris and Mike are progressive, forward thinking, yet still grounded and rooted in historical and biblical Christianity.  I appreciate them as friends and as believers in the emerging generation of youth workers.  They believe in the Church, the future of youth ministry, and the hope and dream of God for the world.

Immerse is a good read for youth workers of all types, and finally ones who are really interested in the interplay of theology and youth ministry.

Our theology influences and impacts how and why we minister to teens. It helps determine what we teacher, how we teacher, what kind of environment we hope to create, the type of faith community we strive to build with our teens, why we do “missions” or service trips, and what we hope to accomplish while on them.

This past year I attended a conference in MN focussing on this same interconnectedness.  You can read my thoughts here

First Third

A note about Mike King

Mike King is the CEO of Youth Front Youthfront and author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry.  Presence Centered Youth Ministry

*This book sets the bar for creating a theological and historical foundation for God’s presence in youth ministry.  The book shows how classic disciplines, symbols, and practices can shape the worldviews, virtues, and habits of young people today.    “If Brother Lawrence had been a youth pastor, this book would have been his favorite resource.” – Kendra Dean

The power of mentoring

Being in youth ministry, we wear many hats ranging from teacher, babysitter, coach, counselor, educator, mediator, advocate, friend, parent, etc..

Perhaps one of the most important roles we play is that of mentor. More than likely, if you are in any form of youth ministry you mentor students.  This may take place formally in weekly meetings and studies or informally through shared experiences and journeying through life together.

Since you probably do a great job in mentoring students, I want to reflect upon something different.

Who is mentoring you?

I spent the first 7 years at my church being completely poured out for my students. I was constantly mentoring them and had very little coming in to me.  As Paul writes, I was being poured out and drained like an offering.  The only problem was that nothing was replacing it.

This catches up with you eventually.

It was odd, because I taught about the importance of accountability, authenticity, inspiration, and challenge in the context of students’ spiritual formation, yet it never occurred to me that I was the one who probably needed those things the most.

I realized that I was lonely and isolated even though constantly surrounded.

As you know,being in ministry is difficult and there are few people whom you can talk to about the struggles and difficulties.

I needed someone like that, and so I prayed earnestly for a mentor for a lengthy period of time.

Months passed and they turned into years.

But eventually, after I kept praying and asking, the right person came along.

A former missionary, pastor, and professor whom I had known for about 4 years had just recently moved to a nearby town to pastor a church.

He was my guy and the great thing was (and is) we both knew it.

My mentor has taught me a great deal about myself. I am free to share my deepest and darkest secrets, as he also brings out my hopes, dreams, and goals.

I can honestly say that I am a better husband and youth pastor because of my time spent with my mentor, not to mention his prayer support for myself and my ministry.

He believes in me, advocates for me, holds me accountable, asks me the hard questions, challenges, encourages, and inspires me.

He is to me, what I hope to be for my students (what we all aspire to be as youth leaders)

I am also a part of a few other groups that function as support systems for my wife and I.

We are part of an amazing small group of young married couples from our church and share life together weekly.

My mentor and his wife also recently began a married-in-ministry mentor/support group where a few couples meet monthly to be ministered to.

There is a real necessity and blessing in allowing others to serve and minister to us.

It is humbling at first to admit that we need this, but it is vital to our own spiritual formation and  soul care, not to mention endurance for the long haul.

I have discovered there to be a striking connection between youth pastors who burn out and leave their positions (if not ministry altogether) and those youth leaders who do not have a mentor.  (by the way, the word mentor can be synonymous with spiritual advisor, coach, etc.. but the point is that she/he is intentional and consistent and focussed on youth spiritual health and growth)

I have others who have informally mentored me (family, authors, speakers), but my mentor does a few things that others do not:

He spends quality time with me and for me, meaning that he is actively engaged in my life.

He listens well and shares advice when appropriate.

He remembers what I share with him and keeps it all in strict confidentiality.

He prays with me and for me.

He encourages, supports, affirms, challenges and confronts when necessary.

And he does it all because he genuinely cares for me and my future (and this holistic concern includes my family, education, finances, spiritual growth, soul care, physical health, and relationships)

1) We need mentors in our life to keep us grounded, hold us accountable, and stay focussed on personal and spiritual growth.

2) We need to mentor our students and not just teach them or organize activities for them.

We all need Pauls and Timothys in our lives.  We need people to mentor and invest in us, so that we are equipped and able to mentor our students.

Mentoring changes lives.

Our students need us, but..if we are not being invested in and poured into, we will have little to give those who look to us.

So…who’s mentoring you?

*Above is a great book on mentoring by a former professor of mine.