Earlier on this year, my church held a Festival of Prayer, a week-long exploration of God from various vantage-points; we pondered icons, we perambulated the parish, pausing to pray for its peoples as we went, we wove a cross which now sits on the ledge by our pulpit in church, and we invited the Bishop to come along and share his very profound, rich relationship with God with us, which he did generously. The week had quite an impact on quite a few of us; after all, I'm not sure it's possible to encounter God in a meaningful way and not be changed by the experience, any more than it's possible to sit in the summer warmth and not be tanned. From this week, a desire to become deeper, richer people of prayer has arisen, and it's exciting to see new initiatives starting to take shape.
At the heart of it, though, is an awareness that Christian faith is a relationship which, like all relationships, needs regular connection in order become and remain strong. So I thought I'd write something about a way of praying that is central to my relationship with God, and about which I spoke during the Festival of Prayer; the daily Examen. St Ignatius Loyola, who pioneered this prayer and taught his men (and they were all men) that if they didn't manage any other sort of prayer, to make sure they did their Examen every day. He was also a pragmatic sort of person, who I hope wouldn't mind too much that I've made a few adjustments to his centuries-old style of prayer. This may or may not be your cup of spirituali-tea (groan!), but do think about how you connect with God in prayer; if this blog just reminds you that God is there, and that he loves you and loves to hear your prayers, however they are phrased or packaged, that'll make it worthwhile!
So, onto my slightly amended night version of the Examen: think back over your day, starting from the moment you woke up until now. as you think back over your day in the presence of God, firstly, think about the people who have featured in your day. Some people might come to mind instantly, Some might not be people you've seen or talked to, but people about whom you've thought, or worried. Some will have played an important role in your day, in whatever way; others require a little more thought to remember. The person who served you in the shop. The parent you chatted to at the school gate. The colleague you laughed with in the lunch queue. The awkward one who made you feel uncomfortable or angry. However marginal, however difficult, try to remember each person who has made any sort of impact on you today. Know that each on is known and loved by God; know that your life is part of an interconnected web of relationships that make us who we are. Give thanks for the people who have enriched your life today, and offer up to God those who have drained something from you; ask God to replenish what was demanded. Bring before God the pains that people have caused you today, no matter how seemingly silly; they are part of you, part of your response to the people who make you who you are, and these pains matter to God. Ask for his healing.
Then, bring to mind anything - however small or insignificant - in your life that is better now than it was yesterday. Maybe a task completed, an improvement made, some progress shown in some knotty problem, a friendship enjoyed, an unpleasant thing out of the way; each day brings its own good, so hold on to these good things and thank God for them. Know within yourself why these good things matter; they might be small in themselves, but they might represent something much greater. Enjoy them again with God, and feel his enjoyment in the good in your life.
Then, and only then, bring before God anything that is undeniably worse than it was this time yesterday. Entrust those things to him.
Finally, offer to God your unfinished work; there will always be something still to do! Try not to get too anxious about the tasks of tomorrow, but acknowledge them before God and ask for his blessing in the ongoing work which you do. Recognise the difference between unfinished work, and things that are worse today than they were yesterday. It's easy to get these categories muddled up, as they can both cause anxiety, but they are profoundly different!
Finally, give thanks to God for his care, his presence and peace, and ask that peace to enfold you as the night enfolds the world (well, your bit of it, anyway). Then sleep well!
As I said, this may or not be your sort of thing. That doesn't really matter; what does matter is that God loves you and longs to hear from you.