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Keep the embers burning

Faith and friendship burning around campfire

Does the chaos of these COVID-days have a cooling impact on your faith? Rev. LuAnn Rourke, Heritage District Superintendent, encourages you to keep the embers burning through prayer.

LUANN ROURKE
Superintendent, Heritage District

A month or two ago, I stopped to pick up some groceries at a store where I don’t usually shop. It took some extra time to find the things I needed since they were not in places I expected to find them. The store had placed arrows on the floor for added safety during these COVID-days, and I obediently followed their direction. At last, I had just one item left on my list. Try as I might, I could not find where this store had it stocked. So I asked for help.

An employee at the end of one aisle kindly directed me to the aisle I needed, and pointed saying, “It’s right down there just about halfway on the left.” Grateful for the help, I headed up the aisle, found the item, and put it in my cart. When I looked up, I was face to face with a man glaring at me, the front of his cart right up against the front of mine. His wife was standing next to him, blocking the aisle completely.

“Oh, mercy,” I said. “I’m probably going the wrong way, I’m sorry.”

He added a growl to his glare and said, “Yeah, you’re an idiot.”

I was a bit stunned, to say the least. I inclined to defend myself, to blame the employee who told me to come this way, but I swallowed all that, put my cart in reverse, and backed out of the way. As I paid for my groceries and headed home, I kept thinking, how did we get to this place? How have we become such an angry, accusatory, grace-less society?

It made me realize that it seems there are far more hard places to bump up against these days. Simple acts that eight months ago, we could accomplish by rote now must be strategically planned. The baseline of anxiety and frustration in the people around us has risen as the number of divisive issues increases. How should we, who are called by the name of the Prince of Peace, respond to all this?

We have often used the image of a burning coal removed from the fire to demonstrate the importance of gathering together with other Christ-followers. I can’t help wondering if we just might be feeling the effect of our cooling embers. It takes more effort to stay connected with church, with faith, with Jesus. Maybe we are less intentional about singing praise to God, about reading or hearing the reading of God’s word, about having faith-informed conversations about racism, the economy, the upcoming election, and our response to the restrictions imposed upon us by COVID-19. 

Maybe the Lord is calling us to find a way to be less troubled by the chaos, and more inspired to love as we have been loved, because maybe the world needs to be filled with people who love and live like Jesus right now, more than ever.

If I may, I would offer one simple pathway that might help. Consider the Ignatian Prayer of Examen. The Examen, or examination of conscience, is a quick prayer to help you see where God was active in your day. It can take as little as five and up to 20 minutes at the end of the day. The prayer was popularized by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, in his writing, The Spiritual Exercises. 

The prayer may take different forms, but the intent is consistent: to make us more aware moment by moment, of God’s gracious presence in the world. Here are five steps that help you pray every day and keep the ember of your faith burning.    

  1. Presence: remember you are present to God and God is present to you in a special way when you pray. Give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence.
  2. Review: replay the day from start to finish, noticing everything you can recall, both big and small, from an enjoyable encounter to the warmth of the sun. When did you show love? When did you feel love?
  3. Gratitude: recall two or three things that happened today for which you are especially grateful. Savor them. Thank God for these good things.
  4. Sorrow: you may recall something you regret doing or failing to do. What made you sad, disappointed, angry, or frustrated? Express those things to God. As you recognize sin, ask for forgiveness.
  5. Grace: as you speak to God about how you feel and what you recall, receive God’s unfailing mercy and grace. Return to giving thanks for God’s abiding presence.

That’s all there is to it. You might want to journal as you go. As one of God’s grace agents in the world, I know that I need to be intentional about my prayer life, daily reviewing, and reclaiming my identity as beloved of God. That way, I can overflow grace and peace, even to an angry man with a shopping cart.

Jim Manney noted writer on topics related to Ignatian Spirituality writes, “You might have the impression that your everyday life is the dreary same old, same old. It isn’t. Daily life is rich and meaningful. Every encounter, every challenge, every disappointment, and every delight is a place where God can be found.”