Coming in April – Lord, Teach Us To Pray, daily reflections on The Lord’s Prayer


“My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?”
Galatians 5:16-18 (The Message)

Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) observed, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Centuries before smart phones, eBooks, laptops, social media, podcasts, streaming and cable television, this genius recognized the human aversion to being alone with God and to think one’s thoughts. The human condition nervously grabs for distraction. Have you tried sitting alone in a room for a few moments without something to read, something to do, someone to talk to?

Sadly, the less attention we give to what is going on inside of us, the less free we are to make wise, life-giving choices. We are left oblivious to forces within drawing us every which way. It is these contrary inner forces that the apostle Paul highlights in today’s scripture:

“For there is a root of sinful-self interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness”.

Paul points to the civil war raging within Christians as each of us are pulled both towards God and away from Him. The question before all of us seeking to do God’s will is: “How do I know when it is the Spirit of God drawing me, or my own sinful self-interest?”

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) has long been esteemed as a wise spiritual guide in helping people to discern God’s leading. He helps people sort through the push and pull going on within us every day.  Notably, Ignatius’ quest for discerning God’s leading begins with taking time to sit quietly alone in a room.

During a long convalescence from battle injuries, Ignatius observed the push and pull going on within him. In his autobiography Ignatius writes in the third person about paying attention to the Holy Spirit and our sinful self-interest at war within:

“He [Ignatius] did not consider nor did he stop to examine this difference until one day his eyes were partially opened and he began to wonder at this difference and to reflect upon it. From experience he knew that some thoughts left him sad while others made him happy, and little by little he came to perceive the different spirits that were moving him; one coming from the devil, the other coming from God.”

In order to help himself and others become aware of these inner movements, Ignatius devised what he called “The Examen.” Examen is not a misspelling but the Latin word for the pointer or indicator on a scale; the Examen points to the weight of something. Ignatius proposed a few questions as an Examen, and indicator, of what is going on within every Christian.

The Examen begins with setting aside some time each day to do what Pascal thought so important but difficult: “to sit quietly in a room alone.” In those moments alone with God, Ignatius proposed asking oneself the following questions:

  • For what moment today am I most grateful?
  • For what moment today am I least grateful?
  • When did I feel most alive today?
  • When did I feel least alive today?
  • When did I most experience God’s presence today?
  • When did I least experience God’s presence today?

As Ignatius counseled people, he discovered that taking time to ask these questions helped them become aware of the leading of the Holy Spirit. In doing this they were following the direction of Scripture: “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  

Centuries later many people still find the daily practice of the Examen helpful for discerning the Spirit’s leading. I even find it fun and helpful to do with children. You might find it life-changing. I hope you will try it.

A fellow traveler,

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