I had just been reading about spiritual disciplines and the ancient practice called “Examen of Conscience.” As I journeyed out the driveway rolling my trash bin I was struck with some amazing parallels.
Every week, without fail, we clear out the wastebaskets, kitchen garbage, and other unnecessary things around the house dumping them with abandon, ready for our faithful garbage collectors. But I wonder, am I as faithful to regularly examen my life, clearing out the clutter, the garbage, and the trash?
Psalm 139:23-24 is perhaps the most familiar passage articulating the soul's invitation to God to guide the self-examination process: "Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me and know my concerns! See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me, and lead me in the reliable ancient path!" I would do well to breath this prayer more often that once a week. Keeping short accounts with God in this way clears out the clutter of my soul and opens my heart to hear His still small voice.
Examen of consciousness not only reflects on what needs to be tossed, but also what deserves to be celebrated. Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms, puts it this way, “The examen of consciousness involves taking a few moments at the end of each day to go back over the events of the day and invite God to show us where he was present with us and how we responded to his presence. We might ask ourselves, How was God present with me today? What promptings did I notice? How did I respond or not respond?
When we first begin practicing this discipline, we may not be conscious of God's presence at all during the moments of the day, but our examen helps us to become conscious of evidence we might not otherwise have noticed. As we reflect prayerfully on the day, we may realize that someone was particularly kind or compassionate toward us and that God was loving us through that person.
Or perhaps there was a moment when we narrowly escaped harm or injury, and as we look back, we see more clearly that God was there protecting us. We may also notice something as seemingly inconsequential as the choice to hold our tongue rather than say something critical or gossipy, or a moment when we were able to be loving and selfless in a situation where usually we would have been self-serving or mean. And we know that the ability to do so came from God at work in our life.”
The amazing grace of Jesus allows us to clear out the trash of bitterness, discontent, anger, impatience. Forgiveness is His daily provision and our need. Clearing out the trash, celebrating the treasures, this discipline would serve us well as another school year begins. A clean heart and new school clothes go together well. Cultivating God’s daily presence becomes as ingrained a habit as the Monday ritual of taking out the trash.
(This was first posted on December 11, 2011)