The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today by Timothy Gallagher

The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives TodaySummary: Helpful, practical look at what the prayer of examen is, and its structure. 

I think I was first introduced to the idea of the Prayer of Examen by Richard Foster about 12 or so years ago in his book Prayer. Foster’s chapter on the Examen is about five pages and cannot go into the detail that an entire book does. I have attempted to do the prayer of examen over the years, but at least in Gallagher’s presentation, I have always been missing part of the prayer.

Early in the book Gallagher has a summary of the prayer:

Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.

Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.

Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.

Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I look also for those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.

Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.

Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.

Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.

These five steps are expounded on in the first section of the book, and then additional thoughts are later. But what I think is often missing in Protestant presentation are these two reminders:

This practice begins when, like Ignatius, we grasp the unique role that a faithfully made examen can play toward fulfilling this desire. More is involved in the practice of examen than desire alone, and this book will explore these further issues. But the root of the practice of examen will always be desire: a desire that is an awareness of the immense love of the God who is ever close to us, a desire enkindled within us when we wish to respond daily, moment by moment, to God’s love, and a desire that is, finally, a gift to be sought in humble and trusting prayer to the God who promises that searching hearts will find their desire (Luke 11:9).

and

For Ignatius, God’s love is always the first consideration, and all else is viewed after and only in the light of this love.3 The first step in the examen, and the basis for all that follows, is simply to notice the endless outpouring of God’s gifts of love to us in the day. When the human heart knows that another heart loves it deeply, faithfully, and unconditionally, it loses all fear. It may ask with trust for any forgiveness it seeks because it already knows that it is unshakably loved. The prayer of step one (gratitude) is uniquely powerful in preparing space in our hearts for the prayer of step four (forgiveness).

One other aspect that I have never noticed in my prior understanding of the Prayer of Examen is that Gallagher suggests that it is ‘most difficult…and hardest to sustain when we are spiritually alone.’  Because I was reading this in the context of my class on spiritual direction (and because Gallagher is a teacher of spiritual directors), this is where I naturally go. But Gallagher also is assuming that the prayer of examen is done within a life that is in the church.

At the end of the book, Gallagher quotes Marian Cowan with an alternative summary that I think is helpful.

“On reflection, one finds that these five steps actually are the five successive moments in any dynamic movement of personal love: what we always say to a person whom we truly love, in the order in which we want to say it: 1. ‘Thank you. . . ’ 2. ‘Help me. . . . ’ 3. ‘I love you. . . . ’ ‘I really do love you, in spite of the weaknesses and failure in my response. . . . ’ 4. ‘I’m sorry. . . . ’ 5. ‘Be with me.’ ”

The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today by Timothy Gallagher Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook 

The Color of Compromise Video Study

The Color of Compromise Video Study: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in RacismSummary: A 12 part video study based on the original book.

I continue to think that The Color of Compromise is an excellent short introduction to the role of the church in historic racism in the US. I read the book originally last year.

I am not going to address the content here but only talk about the format. There are now several options. The book has paper, kindle (ebook) and audiobook versions. There is also an audio-only version of the video study and the video study on either DVD or digital format.

The video study is excellent. There are 12 sessions of approximately 20 minutes each. That is a large number of sessions for a normal small group (I think that 4 to 6 is usually ideal if meeting weekly or else people get distracted.) Because the sessions are about 20 minutes, you can watch more than one in a session. But to give adequate discussion time, you will probably want to schedule at least an equal amount of discussion as watching.

I have not gone back to re-read the book, but it felt to me like there were a few sections of the video study were explanations were tightened up just a bit or were a little clearer than in the book. That may have been the nature of watching a video, or just part of the editing process. There is detail that is not explored in the video that is in the book, but I do think that you can watch the video without reading the book and get the main points without any difficulty.

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie AndrewsSummary: Second, in what is probably a trilogy of memoirs, roughly covering 1963 to 1986. 

It has been almost exactly nine years since I read, and loved, Julie Andrews’ first memoir Home. That memoir of her early years in vaudeville and her time in the theater and the breakout roles on Broadway was well told and extremely well narrated. This memoir, Home Work, picks up with the filming of Mary Poppins, right where the first memoir left off.

I mostly listened to Home Work, with some occasional reading on kindle (I bought both on sale). The production of this audiobook did not use any music as the first one did, but that makes sense because the period is covering an era when Julie Andrews was mostly acting in film and then singing in variety shows or specials on TV.

The weakness of Home Work is an expanded version of the problems of Home, the detail. I am not sure how to avoid the issue as a writer. As a reader, especially as a reader that has not seen any of her movies between Sound of Music and Princess Diaries, the details about shooting and costars was not why I picked up the book. I am sure others are more interested in that portion of the book.

What was engaging about Home and was also present here is her introspection. Mostly she is opening herself up to the world and sharing what her life has been like. The level of drug abuse and alcoholism around her is tragic, with children, siblings, parents, her husband. She shares freely about her struggles of depression as well as the depression of her husband and many others. There are more than a few suicide attempts by those around her.

Home Work is a story of ‘more money, more problems’. Her first marriage ended essentially because both she and her husband were never together. After all, they were pursuing separate careers in the film world. She had long stints filming around the world, and he had long jobs designing films (so that even when they were working on the same movies, they were not working at the same time). Later, when she married her second husband, Blake Edwards, a director, and mostly working together on movies, they bought houses and boats and spent money taking care of dependent relatives so that they felt compelled to keep working. It was a bitter cycle; they had to work to pay for their lifestyle, but also had to pay for assistants and nannies and people to take care of their homes because they were working all the time.

Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions by Gerald May

Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions

Summary: We are all addicted to something; only grace can set us free.

Addition and Grace is not a book I would have picked up on my own. It was assigned for my Spiritual Direction and Psychology class, and it was a book I argued with the whole way through. I have 43 highlights and several comments that you can peruse on my Goodreads page to get a sense of what I was arguing with.

My main argument is with Mays’ shifting understanding of addition. At times he means what we traditionally think of as addiction, a psychological and/or physical need that negatively impacts the people around us or our ability to interact in the world. At times he used addiction as a metaphor for sin. His most explicit definition is:

Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire. It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects. The word behavior is especially important in this definition, for it indicates that action is essential to addiction. As I have indicated, attachment of desire is the underlying process that results in addictive behavior.

But he does not seem to limit himself to just that definition. Quite often, these flexible definitions do help give insight into our human lives.

…no addiction is good; no attachment is beneficial. To be sure, some are more destructive than others; alcoholism cannot be compared with chocolate addiction in degrees of destructiveness, and fear of spiders pales in comparison to racial bigotry. But if we accept that there are differences in the degree of tragedy imposed upon us by our addictions, we must also recognize what they have in common: they impede human freedom and diminish the human spirit.

But at other times addition seems to mean everything in a way that becomes unhelpful. For instance, there appears to be no room for obligation. (I do not think it is accurate to describe responsibility or obligation as slavery or addition.)

Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian by James H Cone

Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian by James H ConeSummary: To understand Cone’s theology, you need to understand Cone and his context.

James H Cone has been a frequent concern in many conservative white Christian circles over the past year. There are several causes for that, but one of the threads that has given rise to the discussion is that Walter Strickland, one of only a handful of Black professors at a Southern Baptist seminary, was quoted by Molly Worthen in an NYT article saying that he assigned James H Cone and found value in interacting with him. That gave rise to calls for Strickland to resign, which prompted this statement.

The controversy continued with the president of the seminary where Strickland works both defending Strickland and calling Cone a heretic and ‘almost certainly not a Christian’ on twitter.  Andre Henry wrote an article about the controversy. It was this background that a friend of a friend asked to discuss Cone. Over this past weekend, I picked up the audiobook and listened to it (having previously read it when it first came out.)

I am not a Cone scholar. I have not read all of his books, although I will probably read all of them eventually (there are not that many). In my lay opinion, I think that people tend to approach Cone wrong. Many people want to jump into early constructive theology, God of the Oppressed or A Black Theology of Liberation. I think that because of his theological method, heavily drawing on his personal and cultural experience, that you need to start with one or both of his memoirs.

Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody was posthumously published. The book was completed and ready for publication when Cone passed away in 2018. His earlier My Soul Looks Back was a mid-career memoir. There is a lot over overlapping material, but they are both worth reading. If you are looking for an order, I would recommend, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Spirituals and the Blues, My Soul Looks Back, Martin & Malcolm & American and then you can move his earlier constructive theology.

I say all of this because Cone developed his theology in response to the culture of the US during the late civil rights era.

When the Detroit rebellion, also known as the “12th Street Riot,” broke out in July of 1967, the turmoil woke me out of my academic world. I could no longer continue quietly teaching white students at Adrian College (Michigan) about Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and other European theologians when black people were dying in the streets of Detroit, Newark, and the back roads of Mississippi and Alabama. I had to do something. But I wasn’t a civil rights leader, like Martin Luther King Jr., or an artist, like James Baldwin, who was spurred in his writing when he saw the searing image of a black girl, Dorothy Counts, surrounded by hateful whites as she attempted to integrate a white high school in Charlotte, North Carolina (September 1957). I was a theologian, asking: What, if anything, is theology worth in the black struggle in America?

All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment by Hannah Anderson

All That's Good: Recovering the Lost Art of DiscernmentSummary: Discernment is a spiritual gift, something that all Christians should work to develop, and a role of a community of Christian practice 

Any regular readers of Bookwi.se probably know that I started a graduate certificate program in Spiritual Direction last fall. I intentionally chose to do my training with a Catholic university because I wanted to challenge my blind spots. Most of the books we are assigned are by Catholic authors, and I often pick up a book by a Protestant author to read in conversation. Because I have previously read All That’s Good, I knew it would be helpful to read with Weeds Among the Wheat by Thomas Green. Both books are about developing or teaching discernment, but they approach the topic very differently, and the tension between that difference was constructive.

All That’s Good is the third book in a trilogy of books about discipleship. Weeds Among the Wheat is a manual for Spiritual Directors to teach and partner with their directees in discernment. For the average person, I would recommend All That’s Good as the better book to read, both because it is targeted at a more general reader and because it is full of stories and illustrations that are more applicable for the average person.

I think what is most helpful about All That’s Good is that 1) Anderson views discernment as a practice to be developed, 2) that for judgment to be fruitful, we need to know not just what is wrong, but even more important, what is right, and 3) that the tough thing about discernment is that often we are choosing not between what is right and wrong but from a range of things that are themselves are good, but attempting to find what is best right now.

Both Anderson and Green approach developing discernment as an essential part of developing maturity. Anderson talks about helping her children learn to shop, not based on impulse, but a range of issues including need, quality, goodness, etc.. Green draws on Paul’s illustration in I Cor 3 of trying to move people toward solid food and away from milk. And Anderson says, “In other words, you develop discernment by becoming a person who knows how, not simply what, to think.” Both authors view discernment as moving from simple rules toward a more mature and nuanced understanding of ethics and discipleship.

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas C Oden

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western ChristianitySummary: Much of the early church was African. The west has largely forgotten its African character and misremembered the importance and reach of the African church. 

One of the important points here is very similar to the one made in this article about the rise of the Nation of Islam that it has been the misuse of Christianity that has led to African (or African American) rejections of Christianity as a White religion. European Christians, especially post Hegalian, viewed the early church fathers as necessarily being European in character because they were essential to the development of Christianity. This ignores the reality that most of the early church fathers were ethnically and culturally African. Most of them spoke Greek and/or Latin, but that is because those were common trade languages. Today we would not say that Bishop Desmond Tutu was European in character because he speaks and writes in English. And that also ignores those that were not writing in Latin or Gre,ek such as St Anthony, who was illiterate, but the only surviving letters we have from him (that were dictated) were in Coptic.

A point which I had not heard before was that the consular format of the early church councils, which are today the basis of what is and is not considered orthodoxy and heresy, were developed by African Christians for use in Africa before they were used in the broader ecumenical councils.

Where I think that Oden gets into a problem is evaluating modern movements. He is a good theologian and historian but tends to paint modern movements too broadly to be helpful. In his section on ecumenicism, there are people that fit into his critique, but many that do not. And because he is not nuanced enough in that critique (and I want to be clear that this would be very difficult), I suspect there are people that will dismiss the clearer theological and historical work as also suspect.

Reflections by Rosa Parks: The Quiet Strength and Faith of a Woman Who Changed a Nation

Reflections by Rosa Parks: The Quiet Strength and Faith of a Woman Who Changed a Nation book cover

Summary: Very brief thoughts by Rosa Parks about her life. 

I noticed this book was on sale for Black History month and realized that I had never read the copy that I purchased last year when it was on sale. Reflections by Rosa Parks is a book you want to buy when it is on sale. It is not that it is a bad book, but it is a very short book. The physical book is the 6 by 7 gift-book size. The audiobook is 80 minutes long.

Despite its short length, it is worth reading. Rosa Parks was in her 80s when she wrote Reflections. It feels like she dictated the book because its prose sounds spoken. There are 12 short chapters. The first several are about her early life and the bus boycott. From the sixth chapter on, the chapters are either about the people in her life or her thoughts on life. Her faith exudes in the pages. She has no interest in being a prominent focus, and humbly shifts the focus to the people around her or her faith.

It is precisely that humility that I think makes this book work. It is not a masterwork. It is a simple story and thoughts of an important, but a mostly unknown woman. She talks about the fact that her refusal to get up has been construed as her being tired after work. She says she did not get up because she was physically tired, but because she was tired of racism.

What I had not realized was how quickly she moved to Detroit. She was fired from her job as a seamstress at a department store weeks after the boycott started. And while it doesn’t say this, it seems likely that her husband probably was threatened as well. They moved to Detroit in 1957. Despite living in Detroit, she participates in the March on Washington in 1963, the Selma to Mongomery march and other Civil Rights work.

Doors Into Prayer: An Invitation by Emilie Griffin

Doors Into Prayer: An Invitation by Emilie GriffinSummary: A collection of short thoughts on prayer.

Doors into Prayer is not a book I would have picked up on my own. It is well worth reading, but I would not have picked it up except that it was part of the Renovaré Book Club. (The next book is Interior Castles.)

I do not participate much in the online discussion, and I do not attend a local in-person discussion (although those are available for interested people). But I do read the supplementary articles and listen to the podcasts. Most of that is paywalled and only for those that participate in the group, but this is a free talk that Emilie Griffin gave at a Renovare conference that is worth listening to (Dallas Willard joins her for some Q&A at the end).

In a paywalled podcast, Griffin says that she wanted to write a book on prayer that was good for standing in line or other short reads. Something that can be read in a few minutes and not tightly connected to the material around it. And that is what this is.

I think of it kind of like those readers digest humor stories. Most topics (chapters) are less than two pages. And while I often read two or three at a sitting, I rarely wanted to read more than that. These are things you want to read and then step away and think and/or pray about.

Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Dust Tracks on a Road: An AutobiographySummary: The memoir of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

It was not until last year that I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, the best known of Zora Neale Hurston.  Last week, The Zora Canon, a list of the 100 best books by Black women, named in her honor, was released. It took me a little while to get into the memoir, and there are several essays at the end that I am not sure really improved the memoir, but her storytelling really shown through. Somewhat similar to Julie Andrew’s first memoir Home, the story stops at the point where her career starts to take off. Unlike Julie Andrew’s who recently released a second memoir, Zora Neale Hurston never did. She still died in poverty and largely forgotten until she was ‘rediscovered’ again by a new generation of writers that have brought her back into public consciousness.

The memoir opens with her family history and her early life. The shadows of her life on Their Eyes Were Watching God, either in her own life or in the lives of those around her, was transparent. I don’t know if she was trying to highlight parallels or not, but it is hard not to see them. I would recommend reading Their Eyes Were Watching God before Dust on the Tracks.

I am only going to highlight two points. She talks about how she devoured any books that she could get to. At one point she talks about a box of books she received:

In that box was Gulliver’s Travels, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dick Whittington, Greek and Roman Myths, and best of all, Norse Tales. Why did the Norse tales strike so deeply into my soul? I do not know, but they did.