Friday, September 5, 2008



Surprise is in many ways a curious kind of experience. On the one hand, it describes what we experience when something completely unexpected happens. Yet, I believe that at the heart of the way of life that Jesus invites us into, is living in expectation of being surprised -- an odd kind of irony in which we live in a way that expects the unexpected.

I suppose, like anything else, there are pathological manifestations of living this way. Those who expect to be continually surprised by malignant forces that actively seek their harm might be described as paranoid. Similarly, those who operate with a robust sense of denial, and who insist on painting a happy face on every situation no matter how tragic, we might describe with a term like "pollyanna."

But having said all that, I have become convinced that at the heart of the way of life that God invites us to pursue is a sense of living in the expectation of surprise that springs neither out of fear or denial, but rather out of a realization of grace. These are moments when we become aware in some way, in the midst of whatever we might be experiencing at the moment (whether or not we are attentive to it, or even always able to perceive it) that we are indeed the recipients of grace.
Learning to live in, and intentionally cultivate an awareness (perhaps even the expectation) of this, seems to be at the heart of way of life that Jesus invites us to pursue, and which He articulates so well in places like the Sermon on the Mount -- where He invites us to realize this not only for ourselves, but for others (all others) as well.

Many years later, Ignatius of Loyola would suggest a spiritual exercise (the prayer of examen) that flows out of, and cultivates, this sense of awareness. Ignatius suggested that we pause at the end of each day to prayerfully consider two questions:

  • "For what moments today am I most grateful?"
  • "For what moments today am I least grateful?"
Another form those questions might take are:
  • "Where today did I see grace surface or be reflected?"
  • "Where today did I see grace fail to be expressed or reflected?"
Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Lynn, in their little book, "Sleeping With Bread," suggest other ways to form these questions, among which are:
  • "When did I feel most alive today?"
  • "When did I feel life draining out of me?"
It was Ignatius' contention, to which I feel confident that Jesus would agree, that few things would be so personally and socially transformative, and would so effectively cultivate an awareness of the ways in which we are aware of , and responsive to, God's presence in our lives (and perhaps the ways in which we tend to mask or resist them) than taking time each day to prayerfully reflect back over the course of our day with those two questions in mind.

What might a life look like that intentionally, regularly, prayerfully considered those two questions?

*(Note: it occurs to me that the general flow of the posts in this blog, what I have described as "footnotes" tend to arise out of reflecting on some form of these same two questions. One of my unexpected surprises is the extent to which those questions have become more ingrained than I realized)

No comments: