A Sacred Yes: The Desire of the Heart

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

What if this sacred yes you’ve dared to say is forming within you the deepest joy you’ve yearned to feel? What if it matters? What if it is about fullest life? What if it is the meaning you’ve been chasing, the vision you’ve been straining to see? What if you’ve said yes to what is most real, most alive, most true in your own soul?

Slowly, slowly, slowly I am learning that divine vocation is to discover and live the truest version of myself. God calls us all to be who we really are. This can be difficult to understand in a culture saturated with individualism. This is an invitation to the core of the soul, to the substance we seek. When we get to the center of our deepest being we discover the home of the Holy, which has been resident all along.

It is here in this sacred center that we recover the spark for life that can grow dim from all the insecurities and expectations we’ve layered upon it. The Advent journey toward the great light might be an interior one. In darkest times, this flame will not die. The world is aching for more souls to catch fire.

Especially at Christmas, I can quickly spout off a list of surface level wants. The advertisements sneaking their way into every part of life offer suggestions too. More layers on the divine flame within, distractions from the deepest desire seeking to claim me.

When we give ourselves over to the call of the Holy forming unseen within, we can trust that it is what we want, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. This isn’t divine manipulation. God never calls us to be who we aren’t. What we carry within us is not another obligation waiting to consume more of our energy and time. The call of God is fullest life, always, even in death. It may take time, and courage, to let the layers of shallow desires fall away to discover the One thing for which we truly yearn. “The soul,” writes Mark Thibodeaux, “is the place where God’s desires and my desires intersect.” What is deepest in us is not in conflict with the dream of God for the world.

In moments, the reign of God couldn’t seem further away. It is clear, just from watching the evening news, that there is much to be done. How do you explain that even in the midst of devastation, the deepest call of the Holy in our lives springs forth from what brings us true joy? Frederick Buechner says it well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I have a hard time naming this deep desire, this deep gladness. It feels selfish at first, which may be an indication that I haven’t properly named it yet. I have to remind myself that this is more than something I want on a whim. It is the steadying orientation of my heart in God. What I also uncover slowly, slowly, slowly is that the heart of God within me is also the heart of all life. My welfare resides in the welfare of all. This is another sure way to determine the authenticity of the desire you seek. Does it bring you joy? Does it confront what is false in you? Does it lead toward the welfare of all?

This Advent, how does your sacred yes lead to fullest life? How is God inviting you to offer yourself from a place of deep joy rather than obligation?

What is it, really, that you hope for? Repeat this question in your soul more than once.

How does this deepest desire within you make brighter a darkened world?

God In All Things: Examen

Lenten Practice: Examen
Daily Act: Engage in the practice of Examen. Use the prayer phrase as a way to enter a time of prayer.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“SEARCH MY HEART AND MAKE IT ONE WITH YOURS.” 

Below is the description of the Examen found in the Community of Christ Guide for Lent. There is no specific formula or method that needs to be used. The important thing with this practice is to place your whole life before God in prayer. Nothing is too mundane or insignificant! Search for God’s presence and invitation in every part of your life. The examen reflects what its founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, proclaimed: That God is in all things!

The prayer of examen is a daily spiritual practice that encourages us to review the day with God, remember our connection with the Holy, and recommit ourselves to encounter the Divine once again. Many Christians have used this practice since the 1500s, and while it is often practiced at the end of a day, it may be done any time. The examen can be used during Lent as we seek to realign our lives with the life of Christ.

The Practice: Find a comfortable and quiet place in which you are able to reflect on your day. Read scripture passages, such as Psalm 139:1–3, 7 or Psalm 51:10–12, 15–17. You may want to write your thoughts on these passages in a journal, or during the examen, write as you notice the Spirit stirring within you.

Begin by recognizing God’s presence and give thanks for this awareness. Gently enter seeking the Spirit’s guidance. Express gratitude as you recognize the many and diverse ways you have sensed God’s presence throughout the day. You may want to record your thanks in writing.

Look back over your day objectively, without judgment or justification. Notice when you recognized God’s presence and where you were most Christ-like. When did you
cooperate with God’s Spirit of healing and shalom? Also notice where you were not as cooperative, and perhaps even resistant to the invitation to linger and follow.

Pay attention to your feelings as you review and reflect, and notice patterns and choices. Are you being invited to release certain attitudes or behaviors and embrace others? Ask the Holy Spirit for insight, and pray for forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, or release as needed.

Offer God the next day, asking God to be present in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Ask yourself, “Beginning tomorrow (or today), how will I live my life differently?” Close your practice with a brief benediction. Receive God’s grace and rest.

What Is In Your Heart?

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.” –Deuteronomy 8:2

This is the time for taking the time to enter into your own depths, to know what is in your heart.

Parker Palmer describes the soul as a wild animal, which is a helpful metaphor in a wilderness season. “Let us remember that if we go crashing through the woods, screaming and yelling for the soul to come out, it will evade us night and day… But if you are willing to go into the woods, and sit quietly at the base of a tree, that wild animal will, after a few hours, reveal itself to you. And out of the corner of your eye, you will glimpse something of the wild preciousness [you are] looking for.”

I realize that while Lent is a wilderness time; most of us are still consumed with the tasks and demands of daily life. Who has hours to sit at the base of a tree waiting for the soul to emerge, whether in your living room or in the actual woods?

It is up to you to determine what you are willing to give. Ultimately, we make the time for what we want to make time for. There may be no more important act right now (for ourselves and the world) than finding a tree to sit under or a warm room to sit in to just pay attention to what is yearning to be noticed within. This is where the reserves are strengthened for living the justice we seek. It is where the most tangled questions knotted up in our minds find gradual release and even response.

But there is also this: being in the season of Lent means the wilderness is not only with us in our set-aside moments of prayer. We are in the wilderness at work, in meetings, driving to the store, and having dinner with our families. The radical way of humility and trust enfolds us as a constant possibility throughout the day. At any moment, we can use whatever is before us as an opportunity to glimpse something of the “wild preciousness” of the soul and then to live from that place.

Perhaps, living in this way, we might see something of the “wild preciousness” of all the other souls we encounter too.

This day take the time to discern what is in your heart. Spend time simply being present, waiting for the wildness of your own soul to emerge and reveal itself to you. Throughout the day return often to this inward wilderness space. Allow it to bring you perspective and patience and humility and grace.

God is searching your depths, in love, seeking out what is in your heart and inviting you to join. The wild preciousness within is longing to be discovered- to be lived.