By Bill Ryan
Nightly Examination of Conscience-
The foundation of a truly moral life is a life given to growth in love, love of God and all Creation, as stated in the great commandment of Jesus. The purpose of conforming our life to God's Life within us, is not to create a perfected "self" that is worthy of a reward at the end of life. Rather it is to become a clear vessel of God's healing love in the world.
Before we retire at the end of the day, it is good to examine the residue of where we have been in our consciousness, choices, and behavior. Our conscience is the word we have for listening deeply in the Heart for the heartbeat of the Beloved and harmonizing our life and consciousness with the One Life, the I AM Life that is the Heart of Christ. Our failures and missteps, the acts and intentions that are disharmonious with the Heart of Christ leave an unquiet residue. By examining this residue each day, we learn from our suffering and lack of peace. An important measure of living the surrendered consecrated life was given to us by Yeshua in the teaching of the beatitudes. Those who are blessed and happy in the spirit are those who walk the path of giving their life over to seeking and finding refuge in what gives true blessing and happiness and the relinquishment what doesn't. The surrendered life is the life that is love-offering. Let us then focus on Yeshua's teachings as the means of finding our true refuge.
Our decisions regarding our thoughts, words, and deeds, in what we do, in what we fail to do, or avoid doing, are the pivot-point of our spiritual life. If prayer is the turning of the will towards God, then all of life is prayer. Most especially the process by which we decide what we shall do is prayer and points toward the fruits of our inner life of God, or lack of it. The fullness of spiritual practice happens when deep Contemplation meets the conditions of life in the present moment.
The Great Commandment
In the Christian tradition the great commandment of love cited by Jesus from the Jewish Torah is the basis of all moral discernment.
“ Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment.” (Mark 12:29)
Here Jesus tells us the basis of the spiritual life is also the basis of our moral life. Relational life, of which the essence is self-offering love, is the ground on which we base all decision making and discernment in our daily life and prayer practice. He tells us that the way into this kind of life is one of continual conversion, a letting go of those misdirections and attachments of the mind that have taken the place of right relationship in love. This includes and begins with the activity of the mind where misdirection or sin happens. Jesus also tells us here in the Shema' that the vertical and the horizontal relationship are not separate. God is the one Self that we love, and that loves in us, both alone in solitude and in all the relationships of our human life. What gives injury or neglect to either affects the entire matrix of our relational life in God. Christ is the living spring in our Heart; Christ is the living presence in those beings we encounter in our lives. The symbol of the cross in a circle so often found in the Celtic tradition symbolizes the totality of the vertical and horizontal relationship of the communion paradigm of Christ.
Every-Moment Practice of Conscience
We have a daily practice of silent communion with Christ at intervals in the day. As we orient the soul toward this communion as ongoing choice we become increasingly aware of what opposes or injures this state of communion. Those thoughts, those words and deeds that are unloving, injurious, exploitive or cruel either in intention or effect become increasingly disturbing to our interior life in God. The more we practice the more attuned we become to those disturbances. At the end of the day the residue of that disturbance is likely to be accessible and noticed by us, a disturbance to interior peace. That is why our evening practice is a good time to review the day in a daily examination of conscience. We can note where we have caused injury and where we have neglected to love and serve as our heart's desire calls us.
Becoming Accessible and Open to Receive the Gift
There is no room for the guilt of judgment of our worthiness as a person. All life is sheer gift of God and our task is to become accessible to God, not to prove our worthiness. (Does the branch prove its worthiness to the vine? No, it only opens to receive the Life of the Vine.) That error only feeds the fiction of a perfected ego and creates a block in our complete acceptance and responsibility for what we have done or what we have failed to do, and to fully direct our energies toward contrition and conversion. Acceptance means accepting the natural sadness when injury is done to love. Those injuries can come in many ways, lies, betrayals, harshness, pridefulness and self deception, taking what isn't freely given, hurtful anger, abuse, a lack of reverence for personhood, and the lack of compassion for the needs of other beings.
True Contrition Arises Each Moment
True contrition comes from the understanding that life arises fresh each moment, and contrition allows us to drop the burden of the distant past, or even the previous moment and return to our heart's desire to be given to love. This is the freedom of conversion, and the wisdom that real repentance is re-directing our life towards true happiness, what we most want and desire. This is true metanoia, coming home, again and again and again, ceaselessly. We are all prodigal children, having dissipated and wasted the gift of our life essence, again and again. Yet the door is always open and the arms always welcoming us, a million times in the course of a day or a lifetime. The important thing is to return home to the Heart, and learn compassion from the pain inflicted on ourselves and others. The true wound is separateness, which heals as we harmonize the soul with unitive life of God within. We are not asked to create a separate and perfected worthy self. We are invited to come home and receive the gift of our belonging as true child of God. We will never create this perfected self, even if we try. We can always return to faithfulness, and return Home to God who is our Home, in this moment, in this breath.
Evening Reflection and Review
By examining the circumstance of the thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions we have made, we can learn from them and bring the fullness of our practice into that situation when it arises again, as it will in various forms. Our practice is always to observe the mind and to abide in the heart. When we are able to "see," to witness the arising of misdirected hidden thoughts and motivations, we can truly offer them up, and relinquish them to make space for our most essential desire, which is loving kindness or agape. The desert elders saw that true conversion must involve a praxis of freedom from addictive or destructive thinking patterns. Over time we cultivate Heart Presence as a ceaseless expression of Prayer of the Heart in daily life and activity, making each moment of life prayer.
Reflection on the Beatitudes- Yeshua's Guide to Self-Offering Love
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I shall not seek solace in creating, promoting, and defending images of self. My personality, my social persona, and most importantly the ego-self are not who I am, but creations of the mind. I will seek not to defend or promote what is not true. I shall hold lightly any mask I wear in this life, necessary as it might be at times. I shall be ready to lay it down. In my true spirit is essence of being, the freedom of nakedness. In my true spirit I can be utterly at peace to be who I am in Christ, and shall always be, simply child of God, child of the Universe. It is enough that I am loved into being. I need not justify, deserve, or aggrandize my existence. I especially shall not seek to be something more than another or that I truly am, especially to compete or belittle, to dominate or divide. "In this nakedness of spirit the soul finds its rest." (John of the Cross- Prologue- Ascent of Mt. Carmel) Help me to rest always in Your Heart alone in my heart.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
All of this passing life is impermanent. I shall not seek to hold on and hold fast to what is temporary and passing. Shall I insist that conditions, persons, and things remain fixed in my clenched fist so that I can have the deception of security? What I hold in my grasp, as dear and cherished as it may be, those people, relationships, roles, and conditions I love and desire, I shall offer and release when it is time. I shall accept the pain of grief and accept that it shall pass. In the continual release I shall seek and find the freedom to find my true Home and refuge, ceaselessly. And I shall deepen my trust that being Home in God is always enough, always sufficient. Help me to let go always into You.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
I must remind myself that real strength and empowerment belongs in the commitment to act and live from the life of inner communion. The Communion Life is gentle and does not seek power over others. I shall not seek domination but healing and well-being for all. In this gentleness I shall seek real empowerment over my own self, my own humanity, my own gifts, and my own energies, my own behavior, the only power there is. I shall lay down any inclination toward retaliation or retribution for perceived injuries, and take pause, rest what in what is deepest, truest, and kindest for all, before I act. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28) Help me to find my true security in your gentle Heart.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness.
Julian of Norwich has told us that we suffer spiritually because we rest where there is no rest. Indeed I hunger, I thirst to be one with you, to harmonize my soul with Your Heart in all that I do, in all that I wish for, in all that my soul becomes in this life. Let me seek only You and the action of your love and mercy in this life, and in the community of other beings. Let me always be disturbed by the disharmony and the disconnection and return to the life of Communion with You. I am happy when the One desire of my life is my only desire. It is Your desire, it is the same. As Marguerite Porete has said, "What you desire, Beloved, we desire. Tell me your desire nakedly.." This is uprightness. Help me to stand naked and unafraid, always before you, upright in the truth of my life, resting in the One Desire that is ours.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Too often my sense of justice and judgement towards others is a justification for exercising control and power. Too often I wish to retaliate for perceived hurts. I must learn to commit to the Mercy of Christ my outrage at the violence and injustice in the world. I must be willing to stand for mercy for all, especially those I don't like or don't agree with. I must be willing to stand in mercy for those who are powerless, beginning with my own powerlessness. Can I trust in Your mercy, that it is real and it is offered? Can I call on Yeshua's mercy each moment, and commit my need for healing and the healing of the world to Him as my every moment prayer offering. There is too much of "me" when what is needed is Yeshua's mercy. It is Home, and it is enough. Help me to find courage and heal my fear in Your mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
I am too often a house divided. Beloved, give me an undivided soul, a committed soul, a consecrated presence, a wholly surrendered will. Let my fist open to become only offering hands. Let there be no half measures, no avoidance of laying bare and laying down this life. Let my avoidance and my fear be opened to your touch, seen by your gaze, and receive the light and Fire of your given Life. Let my discipline be aflame with love alone, and not shaken. When I lapse, let me see it, and return home to my true desire. Let me not offer my soul to shallow substitutes or excuses, and to see them for what they are. Let there only be one Refuge in this life for me, in your Heart alone. Help me to know my lapses and find my way Home in You.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
What is the state of your Shalom? It is to always be in harmony with You, to be oned with Your Life in my life. This is the well of health. May I always be vigilant and watchful with my anger, and my righteous thoughts, with my frustration with obstacles, with my fear of powerlessness. I possess nothing and my seeking any other thing than to be what I am destroys peace. It is enough to be in You alone, your own offspring, a ray of Your Light, a lit flame of Yeshua's Fire. There is nothing to be at war with, no conflict to provoke, no enemy to vanquish, only my own humanity to tame and bring to be at peace in You. Here is my only peace. Help me invite your healing to those wounds of conflict this day I have inflicted or received and find Peace.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
I know it is human to desire approval, to be hurt by rejection, to fear retaliation and judgement from others, to stand alone when it is right and good and loving. Yet where is my freedom to be found? Too often I have denied the freedom of spirit, my true Home in You, my true belonging. Too often I have doubted in the truth of Your unceasing Love out of fear. You alone know me, You alone are my heart's desire. You alone are my true rest and belonging. Help me to accept and live the truth of Your freedom, and bring my fears and the wounds of my human existence to You, "Yeshua, the Christ, my love, my encircler, each day, each night, each light, each dark. Be near me, uphold me, my treasure, my Truth."
Christ as a shield overshadow me
Christ under me
Christ over me
Christ beside me
On my left and my right
This day be within and without me
Lowly and meek, yet all powerful
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak
And the mouth of each who speaks unto me
This day be within and without me
Lowly and meek, yet all powerful
Christ as a light
Christ as a shield
Christ beside me
On my left and on my right.