Monday, September 26, 2016

From My Nature Journal: A Small Examen

I’ve written briefly before on the examen as a centuries-old, daily spiritual practice (see September 22, 2013 post). The examen, or examination of conscience, is a discipline whereby the follower of God takes intentional time, typically near the close of the day, to consider the manner in which they served and represented their God that day.

Recently I came across another excerpt from Church of Scotland minister Alistair Maclean’s Hebridean Altars, a lovely little fragment that can serve as a tiny examen for those so inclined. The Altars are a beautiful collection of Celtic Christian prayers and praises that Maclean compiled from oral and written tradition in his native Hebrides, an archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. First published in 1937, it consists of over a hundred petitions, sayings and poems, along with brief commentary, and highlights the down-to-earth manner in which Celts expressed and lived their faith life. You’ll quickly notice why I find this little selection so appealing, and why I chose to share it on my nature blog.

When the shadows fall upon hill and glen:
and the bird-music is mute:
when the silken dark is a friend:
and the river sings to the stars:
ask thyself, brother,
ask thyself, sister,
the question you alone have power to answer --

O King and Saviour of all,
what is Thy gift to me?
and do I use it to Thy pleasing?

I love this. In similar fashion to the lyrics of the traditional hymn Day is Done, sung to the tune of Taps, it employs the circadian rhythms of nature as a jumping off place for daily spiritual reflection. In amazingly few words, the first lines completely and effectively draw one in to the mood of the night, and then challenge the thoughtful person to consider their personal condition with two simple questions: God, what are Your blessings in my life? And, Do I employ them for You?
What is Thy gift to me?
And do I use it to Thy pleasing?

One of these days I am going to share more thoroughly here on the examen, but for now, this charming text can get us there. Reflect on it tonight as God gives you opportunity, and consider passing this along to others who may find nature an important spiritual pathway.

~~ RGM September 26, 2016

P.S. Interestingly, I believe the compiler of Hebridean Altars was the father of the popular novelist of the same name who lived later in the 20th Century. Remember The Guns of Navarone?

P.P.S. No extra charge: On the same page that the elder Maclean shares the above piece, he also includes this gem which can in like manner be used as a mini-examen: Take me often from the tumult of things into Thy presence. There show me what I am and what Thou hast purposed me to be. Then hide me from Thy tears.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Blowin’ in the Wind: A Prayer of Thanksgiving – On a Summer’s Day

("Blowin’ in the Wind" is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me or give me joy. I trust they’ll do the same for you.)

Well, the summer is waning quickly, or, as Joni Mitchell sang, ‘…Summertime is fallin’ down and winter’s closin’ in.’ Before the season is officially gone I thought I’d share a lovely piece I ran across recently in a book of prayers. The book, entitled The Prayers of Peter Marshall, was compiled and prefaced by novelist Catherine Marshall, whose husband was a very popular pastor, as well as Chaplain of the U.S. Senate from 1947-49.

Peter Marshall was a Scottish Presbyterian clergyman who had emigrated pennilessly to the United States in 1927 as a 24-year-old, attended Columbia Theological Seminary, and served two churches in Georgia before being called to pastor the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. in 1937. Appointed by the Senate as Chaplain in late 1946, he was elected twice to the position, during which he continued to serve his church. He died suddenly of heart failure in late January of 1949 at the young age of 46.

Marshall’s prayers were simple and heart-spoken, of a homespun character, very rarely written down, many of them penned only by a faithful secretary who recorded them in shorthand. But they were a beloved part of worship in his churches, and appreciated in new ways by members of the Senate; previous chaplains’ prayers were filled with pretentious or pompous language that
tended to match that of the politicians themselves. The Prayers of Peter Marshall includes both a small collection of prayers from the churches he served as well as the complete collection of prayers spoken to open Senate sessions. 

Here is the prayer that caught my spirit a few days ago, one he prayed in church, and I share it in hopes that it will be as meaningful to you as it was to me. And, my goodness, if you can find the book, long OP, any of the prayers from those prayed in Senate Chambers would be appropriate for our ongoing intercession for our public leaders.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving – On a Summer’s Day

We give Thee thanks, Lord of heaven and earth, for the promise of summer, for the
beauty of this day – a day
            that shall ripen grain,
            that shall provide good things for the table,
            that shall make all growing things rejoice,
            that shall make more sweet the music of the birds,
            that shall make more beautiful the gardens which Thou hast
                        planted and watered.

We thank Thee for the fertility of the land that encourages us to sow and to plant. We thank Thee for the dependence of the seasons, for all Thy sustaining providence by which we work today and harvest tomorrow.

We well know, our Father, that we are not worthy of Thy bounty, but help us to be good stewards of that bounty. We thank Thee for the endless delight of our lives on this lovely earth. Amen.

~~ RGM, September 6, 2016