A Pause for Self Examination

Happy New Year to everyone. It’s a time of year when people often make plans for the year to come. Maybe there are projects we hope to complete or holidays we would like to go on or courses we would like to attend in order to pick up some new skills.

One of the tricky aspects of the past couple of years is that we can’t make plans with any degree of certainty. We are hesitant to book holidays in case the regulations change in the destination we hope to visit. Even simple things like a meal in a friend’s house might have to change at the last minute as someone tests positive for Covid or is a close contact and has to isolate.

We breathed something of a sigh of relief in the ‘church without walls’ when we were able to complete the schedule of services we had planned for Advent and Christmas. When we had a number of guests coming to share their story, we hoped they would have that opportunity and they all proved to bring great blessing with them as they came among us.

It was wonderful to hear those powerful words from the Christmas carols sung so powerfully and meaningfully by our choir. We all appreciated being able to gather in person and, as infection numbers continue to escalate, it’s not a privilege we take for granted.

If you are not accustomed to going to church services in the Anglican tradition, we have a practice of confessing our sins at most of our morning and evening services. It’s a time when we are invited to be still and reflect for a moment or two on the week that is past and acknowledge before God that there are times when we could have done better. There are things we said or did or thought that were unkind or hurtful or damaging to others and we want to say sorry for those times and avail of God’s forgiveness and his offer of a fresh start.

While we are not permitted in the pandemic to use books in church for fear of cross contamination, the screens don’t always contain the rubrics from the prayer book. The rubrics were the little notes of guidance usually written in red above certain prayers we use in our services.

The Alternative Prayer Book, which was published in 1984 and used until the new Book of Common Prayer was published in 2004, used to explicitly state before our confession prayer – “a short pause for self examination.” It was an invitation to be still and reflect, maybe to sit with some memories and moments that were difficult or painful as you sought to bring them before God and seek his help to move forward.

One of the greatest discoveries I have made in recent years to enhance my devotional life is a smartphone App called Lectio 365. It’s a 10 minute devotion read to you every day as you read and reflect and pray on a scripture.

In the week between Christmas and New Year, they were using an ancient Spiritual practice called the ‘Examen’ to help people to process the year that is past. It involved sitting with your diary, remembering how certain events made you feel, offering all those feelings to God. It involved various processes like lamentation, repentance, confession and thanksgiving.

I found it a very enlightening and helpful exercise and I share some personal reflections on my own year in this week’s podcast. You can listen by clicking the link below.

Apart from ongoing aspirations, like the need to lose a few pounds after the over indulgence of Christmas, I don’t tend to make new year’s resolutions. I’m keen to get a bit fitter again after about a month without doing too much exercise. The other ambition I have for 2022 is to live a bit more reflectively. I’m as addicted to my phone as the next person and we tend to get bombarded by pings and notifications and, as we pay attention, we are often drawn down rabbit holes of articles we don’t need to read or checking the news much more regularly than we need to.

Sometimes, for me, the best thing is to leave the phone in another room as I work on a talk or some reading or praying about something. One of the people in the Bible who has much to teach us about these things, I believe, is Mary, the mother of our Lord. I’ve been struck in recent days by her willingness to surrender and be obedient and to pay attention to all that is happening around the birth of her son, Jesus. As shepherds come to pay homage, as angels visit unexpectedly, as Magi come bearing gifts, her default mechanism is not to be overwhelmed, but to reflect. I love Luke 2 verse 19, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

In my own life I often allow myself to get too busy to stop and treasure the things in front of me in God’s Word and ponder them in my heart. Are there practices I can take up in 2022 that might help me live more reflectively? Are there books I should read? Are there ways to combine exercise with reflection? Are there podcasts or resources I might listen to that would deepen my spiritual life?

These are important questions, not just for me, but for all of us in the ‘church without walls.” Are there people I might uniquely be placed to invite to something like an Alpha course online, just to point them towards the one who has brought hope and meaning and purpose in my life?

We look forward to welcoming a new group to begin our latest course tomorrow night. Even for those who have been church goers for years there are important discoveries to be made in this course we offer online. It’s also a great resource and tool for those friends we have who are genuinely curious about spiritual things, who have lots of questions we can never answer, just to get together in a safe space and develop friendship and community as we explore together. 

It’s not too late if you would like to come or bring a friend. Just drop an email to ahay@tcd.ie or zoomtostfinnian@btconnect.com and we will send you the links to the Zoom call and the video we watch together each week.

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.

Listen to the latest episode of ‘Bitesize Chunks of Faith’