Introduction: Gather together with a warm greeting and any necessary introductions. If you’re joining us here on the blog, welcome. We’re so blessed to have you’re here.
Prayer: Begin with a minute of silence. Breathe in… breathe out… Allow the cares of the day to fall away. Don’t worry, you can pick them up when we’re done if you feel you need to.
God, You are the greatest listener of all. Thank You for hearing even when we don’t have the words to explain our own hearts. Amen.
Touchstone Reminder: Listen
This is a noisy culture we live in. Even when we attempt to get quiet there is almost always something to tune out. Televisions in another room, the hum of lights or other appliances, traffic noise, dogs barking. Sound fills every quiet space. So we learn to tune things out. We must, if we want to focus, if we want to accomplish those things which take concentration and intense thought. It serves us well, until it becomes our go-to. A constant tuning out of the world. We forget how to listen, forget how to pay thoughtful attention. It leaves many with a great desire to be heard, really heard.
Merriam-Webster’s defines listen as:
- to pay attention to sound
- to hear something with thoughtful attention
- give consideration
- to be alert to catch an expected sound
Which definition of listen grabs you?
Who listens to you?
Do you consider yourself a good listener? Why or why not?
I must confess, I’m not a very good listener. I’m learning to do better, but mostly I’m too caught up in myself to listen well.
In conversations, I constantly battle the temptation to formulate my response before I hear all that is said and, more importantly, what is not being said. Which is a terrible way to listen. Really it’s not listening. I often assume too much and neglect to ask questions to clarify what was said.
In prayer, I’m often so surprised when I hear Him speak or by what He says I don’t wait for Him to finish. And I often forget to engage with Him in the conversation by asking questions or responding.
Listening for me takes work and hopefully I’m learning to listen to God and others. Making it a habit to really listen.
Most of us can hear, but listening is altogether different. It requires paying attention, thoughtful attention. Offering the gift of consideration and the act of being alert. Listening for what lies beneath the words, ready to catch the unexpected sound of God spoken in our hearts and by others.
Take a moment to read and re-read the quote below. Pay attention to the words that seem important.
The Bible creates community by providing space for community to happen. It offers storied worlds and theological vocabularies around which people can come together in conversation about abiding questions. It calls for creative, collaborative participation.
—Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible
- What unexpectedly catches your attention? Why?
- Where in your life are you finding space for community to happen?
- What questions often come to you about God and His Word?
- Does it help to share these questions in collaboration with others?
- How does community help us to listen?
Sacred community allows space for Believers to do more than read or study God’s Word. It invites us to listen for the unexpected sound of God in ourselves and others. Communities that intentionally pay attention and give consideration provide good soil for the seeds of faith to grow. Our participation ushers us into the presence of the Holy.
Last week we encouraged you to spend ten to fifteen minutes listening to God in prayer.
- How was your experience this week with simply listening to God?
- Did you find yourself hospitable to the Spirit?
- What did you hear?
- Were you comfortable in the silence?
Examen, like any spiritual discipline, takes practice. Listening is an art. Sometimes we will come away joyful in the hearing of God. Other times all we hear is nothing. It might get frustrating. We may wonder if we’re doing this right, if God really speaks to us.
These are two of the many Scriptures that confirm God speaks to His children. He spoke to numerous people throughout Scripture, and He continues to speak today. As we learn to pay attention and be alert, God will speak and we will hear.
February’s Spiritual Discipline: Examen
We began learning the spiritual discipline of Examen by focusing our mind and hearts on God. We welcomed Holy Spirit with an openness ready to receive through the words of Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
This week we build on Examen by adding a prayer for grace. A simple request for what we desire from God during our time of prayer.
God’s grace is often thought of solely as the act of forgiveness and mercy available to us through Jesus — the greatest grace He gives. But the Greek and Hebrew translated as grace both include “favor” in their definitions (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). We’ve all asked for favors from others when there is something we desire, and Jesus makes the way for us to do the same with God. A prayer for grace includes not only seeking forgiveness, but asking our heavenly Father for favor.
Simply naming what we deeply desire opens us to receive the gift God wants to give us. Moreover, praying for a grace helps us to notice when we actually receive that gift later on. In this way, we realize that the grace is not our own making but is the result of God’s generosity to us. Finally, praying out of our desires ground us in the present, keeping our prayer “real”.
—Kevin O’Brien, S.J., The Ignatian Adventure
- How are you at praying for your heart’s desires?
- What keeps you from asking?
I find it hard to ask God for what my heart desires. I often push my desires aside feeling like they might seem selfish to God. In light of those who are suffering evil, living in cardboard boxes, or battling life threatening illness my wants and needs seem insignificant. I somehow think God might be wearied by my constant asking.
Recently I read a writer’s perspective on this. She explained prayer is much like an oil and vinegar dressing. The vinegar represents the prayers we might deem selfish floating on the surface of rich delicious oil. In the process of pouring out the vinegar, we move to the wonderful aroma and taste of the oil.
I like this analogy. It allows me to envision the pouring out of my heart’s desire as a way to move deeper into the Examen. Requesting grace in this way is a letting go of me in order to hear God in the richer things.
Scripture Foundation: Examen
Read Psalm 37:4
How would you define the word delight?
Sometimes our understanding of delight is wrapped up in all things positive, sharing happy, joyful time with someone we love. In relationships delight includes more than the feel-good moments. It is also the sharing of our heart’s desires and longings with the one we love. Sharing with God and asking for the grace we need in Examen is a way to delight in the Lord. Our willingness to go deeper, past our own desire for more, aligns our heart with God’s heart.
Read Psalm 46:1-9
What earthly realities does the writer of the psalm face?
What desires do you hear in his words?
Read Psalm 46:10-11
What is God’s response?
Many of the psalms are written prayers and songs of faith. They often begin with the author pouring out his heart’s desires much like vinegar floating on top of oil. As they ask for grace their hearts turn toward God, and His desires are revealed.
Kevin O’Brien, in The Ignatian Adventure, goes on to say, “Although grace is revealed in the particular gifts God gives you, grace above all is God’s presence in your life. The Giver is the gift!”
This week we’ll continue to expand our spiritual discipline of Examen. Beginning with a hospitable invitation to the Holy we’ll go deeper by asking for grace. Pour out the vinegar and be still. Trusting and listening for a rich revealing of His presence.
Thank you God, for your Word, for those you inspired to write the words. We delight in You. Speak Lord, for your servants are listening. Amen.