Lent 2021 – Guided Meditation Week One


Years ago I borrowed a very funny but insightful book called “The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians”. It contained such gems as How to Hold Grudges, Shunning Pain & Guiding Others with Guilt…

The one that stayed with me was “Live an Unexamined Life”.

If we do not reflect on our lives or examine them, we live at best with massive blind spots. At worst we judge others, oblivious of our own words and actions. We try, as Jesus said, to remove specks from other people’s eyes while we have a plank in our own! Not only is it as ludicrous as Jesus intended it to sound, it would also mean the act of speck-removal would cause much more damage than the previous condition. We become as the book title says, highly ineffective.

Self –examination is not giving ourselves a score, or being hyper-critical of everything we do. It is more an opening of ourselves to God and to self-awareness, to our humanity and the ongoing need for healing, transformation, change, repentance and growth. The following Psalm is the appointed Psalm for Ash Wednesday. Let’s look at some of the verses (you might read the whole Psalm in your own time.)


Extracts from Psalm 51

To the leader. A Psalm of David,
when the prophet Nathan came to him,
after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…

Create in me a clean heart, O God  and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Some reflections
David certainly seems to be very self-aware. “For I know my transgressions”.
Yet only days before he writes this, it was not so.

It took a visit from Nathan the Prophet to change things. Nathan told David a story of staggering injustice and cruelty by a powerful man to his poor neighbor. David was moved deeply, and outraged at what had happened. Then Nathan said to David “You are that man.”

Only this way could David see what he had done with Bathsheba, and what he had done to her husband Uriah. He could have rejected Nathan, but David knew two things.

He understood that painful as this awareness was, the intervention was from God, and therefore he could still throw himself upon the mercy of God. David knew that the love of God is steadfast even when ours is not.

  • see the opening verses and the basis of his appeal.

It is this love and mercy that accompanies him as he turns inwards to the interior life.

  • look at all the ways David speaks of interiority : inward being, secret heart, clean heart, right spirit, willing spirit.

How does the Psalm speak to you?

Read it aloud.
Read it slowly.
Read it silently and let a verse, a phrase, a word, pop up like a cork in water.
Think about that. Let your thoughts become a prayer.
Then let your prayer pass over into silence.
Be still.


The great teachers of the Church and the Early Fathers saw this. The Desert Fathers of 4th century Egypt said to the novices, “Go into your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” Time alone would be most revealing, and would leave them open before the loving God.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This stark claim was made by the 16th century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal, who understood then that not only are we distracted a lot of the time, but that we want to be distracted. We keep the hum of noise around us, and cling to busyness in the hope that it equates with meaning and purpose.

The “urge to immerse our attention in external things is so instinctive that we’re scarcely aware of it”… says psychologist Steve Taylor. So much of our spiritual traditions, and teaching of the saints simply expands on the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel – When you pray, go into your room. The going into the room is good practical advice, to have a space alone. It also points to going within, to an interiority which is not about being seen, or mere observance. It points to the interior life that David was praying for, with truth in the inward being, and wisdom in the secret heart.

  • Do you have somewhere you can go to be quiet and still? At the beginning of Lent we might reflect on where that might be, or set about locating that place. There we can be still and rest in God.

Be still and know that I am God.

There we can read and meditate, and pray.

The following is one practice we could do in that place.


Those of you who enjoy CSI programmes, or forensic detail, will identify with the writer who suggested we “finger-dust” our lives to see the finger prints of God. Looking over our days to discern God’s presence and touch can be a most helpful practice. Perhaps the best known practice in the church is the Prayer of Examen or Daily Examen associated with Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The practice helps us see where God is in our days and where he might help us and lead us in the coming day. (It is often used towards the close of the day.) Here is a version of the Prayer of Saint Ignatius from Loyola Press/ www.ignatianspirituality.com

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?

God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.

  1. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
  2. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God. End the Daily Examen with the Our Father.

Some Resources

Next week we look at Repentance. Until then here are some verses and prayers to memorise or use for gentle repetition as a prayer word.

Words & Thoughts
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be now and always pleasing in your sight O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.

Lord Jesus help us love as you have loved us, forgive as you forgive us, and be blessed in the doing of your teaching.

Lord Jesus help us love as you have loved us, forgive as you forgive us, and be blessed in the doing of your teaching.

Help us be still and know that you are God. Help us listen to others with kindness.

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