Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Daily Examen: God at Work

Daily Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola (From a widely distributed brochure and found on other sites; I cannot find any copyright or even a way to properly attribute authorship...if you know and can help me give credit where credit is due, please let me know in the comment field.)

Would You Like to Grow in Intimacy with God?

God becomes available to us through the lives of individuals who share their gifts, and the Source of their gifts, with others.

Saint Ignatius Loyola received a gift from God that enriched his Christian life. The gift was a "method," a way to seek and find God in all things and then gain the freedom to let His will be done on earth. This "method" allowed Ignatius to discover the voice of God within his own heart and to experience a growth in familiarity with God's will. This "method" involved discovery and experience; becoming attuned to God's suggestions and supports for action, growing intimate with God's promptings and purpose.

Through the steps below you can experience his "method" of growing in a sense of self and the source of self. You can grow more sensitive to your own spirit and its longings, its powers, its Source; and you will develop an openness to receive the supports God offers.

"Love consists in a mutual sharing."   (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius)

"Lord, lover of life, your imperishable Spirit is in all." (Wisdom)

1. Recall you are in the presence of God.

No matter where you are, hilltop or valley, country or city, in a crowd or alone, you are a creature in the midst of creation. The Creator Who called you forth is concerned for you. The Spirit of God, sent by Christ, will remind you that you are gifted to help bring creation to its fullness, to restore it to the Creator's way. Ask the Holy Spirit to let you look on all you see with love. "Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; ... it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right ... Love hopes all things."  (1 Cor.)

2.  Give thanks to God for favors received.

Pause and spend a moment looking at this day's gifts. Be concrete! Recall the taste of jam on toast, the fragrance of a flower, the smile brought forth by a kind word, an act of patience that gave someone ease. Take stock of what you received and gave. Notice these clues that guide living.

Now look at the more permanent gifts that allow your participation in this day. Recall your particular strengths in times of difficulty, your ability to hope in times of weakness, your sense of humor and your life of Faith, your intelligence and health, your family and friends. God the Father gives these to you to draw you into the fullness of life. The Father sent the Son, Jesus, to assure us that God's kingdom is being established. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us as we receive and bring life to others.

Pause in thanksgiving.

3. Ask for awareness of the Holy Spirit's aid.

Before you explore the mystery of the human heart, ask to receive the Holy Spirit so that you can look upon your actions and motives with honesty and patience. "When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) The Holy Spirit inspires you to see, with growing freedom the construction of your life story. The Spirit gives a freedom to look upon yourself without condemnation and without complacency and thus be open to growth. "Love hopes all things."

4. Now, examine how you are living this day.*

Recalling the events of your day, explore the context of your actions. Review the day, hour by hour, searching for the internal events of your life. Look through the hours to see your interaction with what was before you. Ask, what you were involved in and who you were with, and review your hopes and hesitations. Many situations will show that your heart was divided: wavering between helping and disregarding, scoffing and encouraging, listening and ignoring, rebuking and forgiving, a word and silence, neglecting and thanking. See the opportunities for growth in faith, hope and charity and how you responded. What moved you to act the way you did?

Notice where you acted freely, picking a particular course of action from the possibilities you saw. See where you now sense you were swept along without freedom. This "method" is to give you habits of freedom. What habits helped or hindered you?

See where Christ entered your decisions and where you might have paused to receive His influence. "Test yourselves," St. Paul urges, "to see whether you are living in faith; examine yourselves. Perhaps you yourselves do not realize that Christ Jesus is in you." (2 Cor.) His influence comes through His people, the Body of Christ. His influence comes through Scripture, the Word of God. Now, as you pray, His Spirit will help you know Christ's presence and concern.

As you daily and prayerfully explore the mystery of your self in the midst of your actions you will grow more familiar with your spirit. You will come to know the Lord is with you and with your spirit. Christ will continually invite you to love your neighbor as yourself and strengthen you to do this.

5. Pray words of reconciliation and resolve.

"The Word of God is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance. See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster ... Choose life," speaks the prophet (Deut. 18).

Now, having reviewed this day of your life, look upon yourself with compassion and see your need for God and try to realize God's manifestations of concern for you. Express sorrow for sin, the obscuring darkness that surrounds us all, and especially ask forgiveness for the times you resisted God's light today. Give thanks for grace, the enlightening presence of God, and especially praise God for the times you responded in ways that allowed you to better see God's life. In these acts of sorrow and gratitude you grow in knowledge of God's gentle labor for you. "As the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in mine."  (Jer. 18:6)
A Final Reflection

Growth in friendship and intimacy needs time and constant attention. Thus, give 10 to 15 minutes daily to this examination. Cover all five points daily with a freedom to linger more at one point than another, as the Spirit moves you.

*for more practical guidance on this step, here is "How to do a Review of Consciousness" from this very helpful website,

Let your mind drift over the last 24 hours, refraining from any self-judgement, whether of approval or disapproval, attending to and relishing only those moments of the day for which you are grateful. Even the most harrowing day includes some good moments, if only we take the trouble to look - it might be the sight of a raindrop falling, or the fact that I can see at all. When people attempt this exercise, they are usually surprised at the number and variety of good moments in the day which otherwise would have been quickly forgotten - obscured, perhaps, by any painful experience in the day. Having remembered the events for which you are grateful, thank and praise God for them.

After thanksgiving, the next step is to recall your inner moods and feelings, noting, if you can, what led to them, but again refraining from any self-judgement. Be with Christ as you look at these moods and beg him to show you the attitudes which underlie them. The important thing is not to analyse our experience, but to contemplate it in Christ's presence and let him show us where we have let him be in us and where we have refused to let him be. Thank him for the times we have 'let his glory through' and ask forgiveness for the times we have refused him entry. He never refuses forgiveness. He knows our weakness far better than we do. All we have to do is show it to him and he can transform our weakness into strength.   We can conclude with a short prayer, that also looks forward to the day to come, and asks for God's help.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

St. Francis, Jesus,

This Sunday is the Feast of St. Francis, a day to remember and honor Francis of Assisi, who was born in the early 1180's and who died in 1226.

Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant, but encounters with the poor caused him to take Jesus/the Bible/the "authority of Scripture" literally and - much to the chagrin of his father - give up all his possessions and live a life of poverty, humility, and service to the poor. He was the founder of the Franciscan order, people who to this day dedicate themselves to following his teachings.

Ironically, St. Francis is best known to most American Episcopalians for one thing that wasn't all that central to his life - his love for animals and the resulting custom of an annual Blessing of the Animals -- and another thing that has nothing directly to do with him at all: the "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace" prayer that is printed in our Book of Common Prayer as attributed to him, but wasn't written much earlier than 1912, and not well known until World War II.

So there you have it, modern-day, North American/ European Christianity in a nutshell: take two things having little or nothing to do with the founder and create elaborate worship and prayer customs out of them, all the while ignoring what the founder cared most about! Lord, have mercy.

We - I - am as guilty as anyone of this dynamic. We - I - happily do the Blessing of the Animals service. 
And we - I - enthusiastically perpetuate the "Prayer attributed to St. Francis" (and in fact on Sunday, we'll use it as our post-communion prayer). And we as a church -- and I as an individual Christian -- do not feel called to sell all our/my property, give the money to the poor, and live a life of poverty (again: Lord have mercy). 

It seems, then, that the best we - I - can do is keep setting aside a day to honor the founder anyway: to keep the Feast Day of Francis annually and to keep the Sabbath Day weekly, as reminders to ourselves/myself to return to their principles. To keep returning to the difficult but life-and-soul-saving truths they articulated and modeled. 

After all, we aren't called to BE Francis - we're called to be ourselves, inspired by him and all the Saints. 

And we're not called to BE the Christ - we're called to be the Church, and individually members of it: beloved sinners, doing the best we can, where we are, and as who we are. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Who am I to Judge?"

or, Does Pope Francis’ non-judgmental attitude cause him to smile, or does his smile cause him to have a non-judgmental attitude?

A sermon preached at The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church Virginia
September 27, 2015 (Proper 21B)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector

If you’ve come here -- to this Episcopal church -- knowing we are not Roman Catholic, and thinking that you might get a break from what seems like 24/7 coverage of Pope Francis – well, sorry to disappoint you, you’ll have to wait a little longer. Because I want to add my voice to those who are praising him. Thanking God for him.

The current Pope is one of those rare people in life who motivate you to change your behavior without once telling you to do so.

Have you ever noticed that? – that the people who have the most influence on you are the ones who aren’t trying to change you? – that, ironically, the people who change us the most are the ones not trying to change us at all, but are simply leading by example, so that when you compare your life, your behavior, your disposition to theirs, you are so struck by the contrast that you spontaneously tell yourself, “I can do better. I can BE better.”?

Here’s an example: I was watching Pope Francis preach, and greet people. Here’s what struck me the most.

The Pope’s smile.

You notice how much the Pope smiles?

And I’m not talking about my weak little half-hearted grin. I’m talking about a smile that shows his front teeth.

It’s gotten me to thinking: I’ve been with you as your pastor and priest for three years now. How often have you seen my front teeth?

I repent of that. I’m sorry for that.

As your pastor, as your priest, I’ll try to do better.

And here’s why: a little experiment.

Try this:

Smile, really smile, with your front teeth showing…

…and also try, at the same time, to have a judgmental attitude, a judgmental thought about yourself, or another person.

It’s almost impossible. One or the other has to go!

[SMILE BIG] – (you’re thinking, “that cray idiot is trying to make me smile big in church and church is not a place where we should be smiling big it’s a place where we should be dour and serious and angry and judgmental…hmmm….wait a second…”)

Try to smile and be judgmental at the same time. It’s almost impossible.

Now ponder this:

Does Pope Francis’ non-judgmental attitude cause him to smile, or does his smile cause him to have a non-judgmental attitude?

This Pope is doing a lot to heal the church’s reputation – not just the Roman Catholic Church, but Christianity’s reputation, in the world. And a lot has to do with – in fact, it all started on the global stage at least, with his “who am I to judge” comment and attitude.

A major reason that people are driven away from, or turned off by, religion, is the perception that religious people are judgmental.  

The good news (I guess) is, “religious people being judgmental” is nothing new.

The passage from the Book of Numbers we heard read today is one of the assigned readings at ordinations to the Priesthood. As William Placher, the preacher at my ordination pointed out what an odd passage to be read at ordinations: the people get mad at Moses, Moses gets mad at God, and God, somewhere between exasperation and anger, says, essentially, “okay, you want priests, I’ll give you priests!”

Look at it – the people are eating manna in the wilderness, and getting sick of it. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish used to eat in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic, but now – just this manna.”

(Can you imagine Moses hearing this?

“For FREE?!? You were slaves! They whipped you, and when you cried out, they doubled your labor and cut your materials in half! They tried killing all your baby boys! I barely escaped assassination myself.”

“Ah, but the cucumbers. And those melons, so delicious…”

So Moses gets mad at God – why’d you give me this job? Are these my people? Did I give birth to them? Am I supposed to nurse them? I need some help here.

And God gets mad at everyone, and tells Moses to gather seventy of the elders of Israel in church, in the tent of meeting.

Moses gathers them, and God takes some of the spirit that is on Moses, and puts it on the seventy elders.

But two men, Eldad and Medad, stayed back in the camp – they had registered, filled out their forms, as elders, but had not actually physically attended the “ordination service.”

They were qualified…they had registered…but for some reason, they didn’t play by the rules.

But the spirit rested on them anyway! 

So they prophesy in the camp…they’re in the camp prophesying. So someone comes running to Moses to tell on them – Moses, they’re prophesying without proper authorization!

-- and not just tell on them, but someone tries to get Moses to stop them.

“Moses, stop them!”  We’ve got rules to follow, and they didn’t follow them. They weren’t with us, they’re not one of us. They’re coloring outside the lines…!

But Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake?” (Who are you trying to protect? Why are you trying to limit God’s activity?!?) “Would that all of God’s people be prophets!” (May God put God’s spirit on everyone!”)

Do you see this contrast between judgement and non-judgement? This all-too-human tendency to be threatened by people when they are coloring outside the lines – even when they are doing good.

It’s the same tendency that one of Jesus’ followers falls prey to:

In today’s gospel, John, one of Jesus’ followers, comes up to Jesus and says, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

How telling John’s choice of words are – this man was following Jesus, he just wasn’t following us!

(It’s interesting: just a few verses earlier, we learned that Jesus’ own followers weren’t able, themselves, to heal a boy, and Jesus had to step in himself. They were incompetent. Shortly thereafter, they see someone competent, someone else effectively casting out demons in Jesus name.

And they try to stop him!

This exorcist was confronting and defeating Satan! He was using Jesus’ name – the formula would have been “In the name of Jesus, I command you to come out!” so he was showing an awareness that his power came from Jesus, and that his success was due to calling on the name of Jesus.[1]

The disciples see someone else whose ministry is successful,
someone else who is doing good work, and doing it competently –
but because he was not following US,
because he was not “one of us,”
because he was not a member,
they try to stop him.  

What does Jesus do when he faces this judgmentalism, this narrow-minded exclusivism? 


He responds with an open and generous spirit. “Don’t stop him. No one who does a deed of power in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. …

“Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

Doesn’t that help make sense of so much that is going on, not only in our church, but in our culture in general?

Judgmental and non-judgmental attitudes are not a new problem. These two mindsets have clashed for centuries:

People who put limits on God’s grace (or try to regulate it themselves) believe in “in and out,” a “closed set” of believers. Once you’re “in,” once you’ve crossed the boundary and become one of us – mostly by proving that you subscribe to what we subscribe to, believe what we believe – then you better be careful not to cross back over that boundary again.   And people who are “closed set” believers spend a lot of time and energy protecting the border, or boundary. These people see Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, and tell Moses “they’re outside the boundary! Make them stop!” [2]

They see someone casting out demons in Jesus name, and they try to stop him – why? – because he was not following us. He was not inside the circle.

Open set believers, on the other hand, are still concerned with “in and out,” but are more focused on the direction people are going: toward or away from the center.

Therefore policing boundaries are not as important for them as shepherding direction.[3]

Moses, open set believer Moses, says, “why are you trying to put limits on God’s activity? Why do you feel threatened? “don’t be jealous for my sake! Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets! Would that God’s spirit be on everyone!”

Jesus, open set believer Jesus, says, “don’t stop this man – whoever is doing a deed of power in my name will not turn around and cut me down. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

A “who-am-I-to-judge?” attitude reminds us to put no barriers in the way of those who seek to be close to God. And at the same time, to pay careful attention to the direction you are moving.

Because even the best of us need to watch our direction,

and even the worst of us can head toward God.


[1] Insights indebted to Sacra Pagina series, The Gospel of Mark
[2] Insight about “closed set and open set believers” indebted to the blogger Steve Collins. I’ve written more about that here:
[3] Ibid.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Protect territory, or shepherd direction?

Around 2003, when the split in the Episcopal Church was heating up over the election of an openly gay priest as Bishop of New Hampshire, I ran across an odd but fascinating essay about mathematical "open and closed set theory" by the blogger Steve Collins. His essay -- all that is in quotes below, as well as the illustrations, are from it -- offered a helpful explanation not only of what was going in the Episcopal Church at the time, but also in the wider culture now.

I plan to say more during Sunday's sermon, but here's a peek:

"Closed set believers have a 'territorial' concept of God's kingdom," Collins writes. To them, God's kingdom, or favor, is enclosed within a boundary, and "Once you are inside the territory, care must be taken not to cross the boundary again."

Open set believers, on the other hand, define membership by movement toward or away from Jesus Christ as the center. "There are still those who belong and those that don't, but you can't separate them easily, let alone state who is in and who is out once and for all. Those who appear to be close to Christ may be moving away from him, and those that seem far away may be heading toward him."

For closed set believers, where one draws the line determines, for them, the nature of the territory within: "A boundary-defining issue need not be central to the faith, but as 'the border-crossing,' it is taken as the litmus test of whether one accepts the central matters of the faith or not."

Here's what I find fascinating: 

"Which set theory one adheres to has nothing to do with whether one's positions on specific doctrines are liberal or conservative. Liberals can defend single-issue boundaries with militant certainty, expelling those who disagree. Conservatives can have strong opinions on direction without making rigid judgments or picking battles. What is problematic is that each of these mindsets offends the other:

"Closed set people think open set people are unprincipled or weak because they will not stand and fight. Open-set people think closed-set people are intolerant and controlling."

So, what's the good news, the way out of this dilemma?

It's found in Sunday's lessons from Numbers and the Gospel -- both of which, I hope to show in my sermon -- can give us good guidance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Caricature Christians?

A sermon by the Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal
Falls Church, Virginia September 13, 2015

Jesus is walking along with his disciples and suddenly asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” (In other words, “What are the prevailing opinions out there?”) They give him some of the most common theories, and then Jesus says, okay, let’s make this personal.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Peter answers (seemingly correctly at first) by saying he’s the Messiah, the long-awaited anointed one, but then when Jesus spells out what that means, it turns out Peter had it all wrong.