Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cultivating Hunger for Righteousness, Beatitidues Pt 16

Remember that rule from high school geometry? Something like: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Well if you want to increase your hunger for righteousness, the way to get from where you are today to the point of greater hunger is not a straight line. If it were, then all that would be required is to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and by our own will, effort and hard work we would develop hunger for God's righteousness. We would just start walking to that place and make it happen.

But there is no straight line to hunger and thirsting for righteousness. You cannot make it happen. This is not because Jesus was setting up something that is impossible for us to attain and therefore we are in need of grace, as if hungering for righteousness is some kind of magical gift bestowed upon us just because God wants it. No we grow in righteousness as we meander along the path of following Jesus in this life. It's what happens to us as we follow the ways of Jesus.

As we walk, we discover that the Spirit of God is doing something in us—changing our appetites—and we don't fully know how this is coming about. Most of the time, I've found that I cannot pinpoint any one or two things that I've done to change my appetite. I just discover that God is at work and that my cravings are different.

Let me suggest that the way to cultivating hunger for righteousness is to learn how to pay attention so that you can discover what the Spirit is doing in, around, and through you.

One way of doing this is to practice the Examine. It's a simple way of developing the discipline of seeing what God is up to. It has five basic steps:
1.   Recall that you are in the presence of God.
2.   Spend a moment looking over your day with gratitude for this day's gifts.
3.  Ask God to send you His Holy Spirit to help you look at your actions and attitudes and motives with honesty and patience.
4.   Now review your day, week or the previous month. This is the longest and most significant part. Ask questions like:
  • What answer to prayer have you noticed?
  • Where are you experiencing God's love for you?
  • How has God moved through you to care for others?
  • What are you feeling in your physical body? 
  • What has been giving you energy? 
  • Are there things that are depleting you?
  • With what actions are you pleased?
  • With what are you displeased that you did not do?  
5.   The final step is our heart-to-heart talk with Jesus.

The traditional Ignatian practice of the Examine is done daily. At times I've done this on a daily basis, but I've found that this practice works better for me weekly. So on my weekly Sabbath, I spend some time reflecting over the previous week to see what the Spirit is doing. This creates awareness so that I can join in with that and walk with the Spirit with more energy and direction. The new and growing hunger that I discover can increase as I get more deeply involved in what the Spirit is already doing.

This practice does not increase my hunger for righteousness in a direct or straight way. Just like cultivating a garden—the work of pulling weeds, loosening up the earth and attending to the needs of the plants—does not directly lead to the growth of the plants, but it does help them grow indirectly. The practice of the Examine can cultivate our lives and increase the space for the work of the Spirit to increase our hunger for righteousness. 

For more on The Examine click here.

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