This week we were once again invited to step into one of Jesus’ enigmatic and instructive parables, that of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18:9-14. We found ourselves again in the position of being tempted to absolve ourselves of anything to do with the critique aimed at the Pharisee in the story. “Pharisee” has become such a shorthand phrase for “hypocrite” that it would take a lot of convincing for us to see ourselves in his shoes. But by separating ourselves from the Pharisee, by placing ourselves on a higher moral plane than him, we are ironically adopting the same self-righteous posture.
It is not comfortable to think of ourselves as self-righteous. It is a phrase most of us would be hard pressed to use to describe ourselves. As a way to step gently towards a more honest self-assessment, we will turn to a tool used by Ignatius of Loyola called the examen. It is a series of simple questions designed to help us notice the areas of our lives that bring us a sense of fullness and joy, which really is the opposite of judgment and self-righteousness.
Begin by taking a few moments of quiet prayer. Try to still your body, your mind, and your heart and become aware of God’s presence in your midst. It can be useful to light a candle at the beginning of this prayer. When you feel yourself slowing down a little, take some time answering these questions:
When did I feel most alive today? When did I most feel life draining out of me?
When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the least love today?
When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the universe? When did I have the least sense of belonging?
Whatever comes up as you pray, acknowledge it before God. Don’t try to pick the “right” answer, but what resonates most strongly with you. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in the coming days in taking steps toward what is life-giving and away from that which is draining, unloving, and disconnected.
*Examen questions are from Sleeping with Bread by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn.
Feel free to share your experience with others who have also tried this prayer exercise by commenting below or emailing: email@example.com.