AUTHOR: Chris Anderson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016, (181 pages).
Written in three parts, Part One is "Trusting Joy" which Anderson calls, 'moments of light.' Listening is key. If we spend more time listening and reflecting instead of judging and analyzing, we will receive a deeper fullness of God speaking to us. For each time we attempt to over-analyze something, there is a tendency toward reductionism. If God intends to expand our understanding, should we not let God speak to us in His way? Be quick to listen and slow to analyze. Be aware of our need for human experience. Seeing the light means letting God's light into us and shining from within us. At a spiritual retreat, Anderson first practiced the examen and in the process discovers more of himself. He learns the work of the examen: to face the darkness head-on; and to follow the light and hanging-on. Faith is like a seed. When we plant that seed, we need to surrender to God who gives the increase in His time. He admits that this trust can be difficult at times. During times of sadness, we are urged to remember that we are loved in spite of circumstances. Learn from St Teresa of Avila who encourages us to do whatever most that kindles that love in us. Anderson shares about a time when he was helping his father move a piano down a flight of stairs. When he slipped at the top end, he relied on his dad to support it all at the bottom. In a similar light, at times we simply had to surrender it all to God to carry us through our darkest and loneliest times. Listen to love is a key advice. When we recognize the love in the light that we sense, we can follow the light. Believe that it is not the negative that will cancel out the positive. It's the other way round. That's what hope is about. Depression and confusion are not something we should afraid of. Recognize them but do not give in to them.
Part Two of the book is allocated to dealing with such darkness. Carl Jung observes that Enlightenment comes not by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness visible. It begins by dying to ourselves. It means facing the fears that often cripple us. Even Mother Teresa had long periods of darkness and depression. Learn to see desolation as an opportunity for humility to rise. It is an opportunity to realize that the examen is not simply a feeling but a practice. It is not about some magical words but a practice of faith in clinging on to the light. It is a moment to face our emptiness and declare it is not something to be afraid of. One way to do so is to laugh at ourselves. The examen helps us see and accept ourselves for who we are. Anderson continues with a call to serve.
Part Three wraps up the discussion with a focus on learning to see God in everything. When we go outside of ourselves and self-concerns, we learn to see the beauty and bigness of God. Church is not about getting answers to all of our doubts. It is learning to live with the questions of life. We remember that many things are mysteries and even when we do not yet understand them, we can let them remain mysteries until some future revelation.
This book is a reflection based on the spiritual practice of the examen; and to us it to reflect on light and to contrast with darkness. The examen is essentially a Spanish word for 'examination.' In praying the examen, we are examining ourselves in the light of God's revelation of who we are and our need for God. The five points in the examen are:
- Being grateful to God for what we have received
- Being aware of our sins and our tendency to do wrong
- Being demanding of our own selves to be honest of our inner thoughts and words
- Being willing to ask God for forgiveness
- Being resolute in asking for God's help and grace.
The first part of the book works on gratitude and honesty. The second part of the book is the honesty and need for forgiveness. The third part looks forward to be resolute in living well in God's grace. Through all of these steps, the common thread is prayer and Anderson concludes with a succinct statement: "Prayer is autobiography." In prayer, we understand more about ourselves and our true needs. It is a first-person account of who we are; what we are experiencing; and how do we go about dealing with our darkness. It is a statement of hope that in spite of our difficult times, we can follow the light. We can be close to God and God will carry us through. I think about how God has appeared to people throughout the ages. There is something that marks the way God introduces himself. To Israel, the prophets, the patriarchs, to the disciples, to Paul, and others, He told them not to be afraid. This one statement is key to following God. For when we are afraid, we easily give in to fears and are vulnerable to the temptations of falling to darkness. We resist our human tendencies to such fears by clinging on to God's light. This is done through prayer, which is why prayerfulness remains a core attribute of a believer. There is no faith without prayer. Anderson has given us a resource in which we can cling on to God in all circumstances through the practice of the examen. In seeking after God to want to know more of God, we will find our hunger more after God and less after the world. We long more for God's light even as we struggle through darkness. We will want more of God. Prayer is the way in which we do that.
Chris Anderson is Professor of English at Oregon State University. He is also a poet, a retreat leader, and a Catholic deacon.
Rating: 4 stars of 5.
This book has been provided courtesy of William B. Eerdmans and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.