For a long time I avoided self-reflective forms of prayer. I told myself it was because I thought that these forms were narcissistic. Why spend time concentrating on the self, when we can concentrate on God? I looked for God outside of myself, in the beauty of nature, in the depth of thought, in the intricacies of liturgy. I said the confession of sin every Sunday, and sometimes it was heartfelt, but it rarely resulted in my knowing myself better. I didn’t want to know myself better.
Then, while vacationing on the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan, I decided to finally try a practice of Examination of Consciousness. I followed the simple method that I’ve illuminated on this prayer card. I became aware of God’s presence, mostly through centering my breath and singing psalms. I reviewed the day that I’d just lived through, and I wasn’t sure whether I would feel gratitude or not. Yet as I ran through the course of a day in my mind, I was surprised by how many occasions I’d had for joy – far more than any moments of regret. I paid attention to my emotions, and found that most of them were joy-filled and peaceful. I thought about the people I’d spent time with, the strangers I’d met, and felt a great deal of love and gratitude for them. When it came time to choose a particular moment of the day to pay special attention to, I found that I chose the happy moments as often as the difficult ones. And having this sense of how blessed life really is prepared me to meet the next day with gratitude as well.
The surprise is that God can be found in the workings of the self. For months I’ve been thinking about a quote from Richard Rohr: “Mystery is not something that you cannot understand, but it is something that is endlessly understandable! It is multilayered and pregnant with meaning and never totally admits to closure or resolution.” I read this as saying that the mystery of God is not appreciated through closing the mind and self to one’s day to day existence, as if that existence wasn’t a good enough lens through which to contemplate the divine. Each moment of existence is full of the mystery of God, and examining our existence draws us into that mystery, step by step. With each moment of examination, some facet of truth is raised into the light. It will never be the whole truth, but it draws us on to other truths, to going deeper and deeper into mystery. That is a beautiful thing, and reason enough to try to live an examined life.