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.