Treasure these words in your heart
I invite you to take up a practice of the Daily Examen this Lent. Here's my sermon from Ash Wednesday with a bit of background on how this simple habit can improve your spiritual and mental health.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and consuming insect destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor consuming insect destroy and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19–21 (LEB)
A few days before our wedding, one of our friends advised Robbie and I to take the time to really savor the day. “Everything will pass by so quickly," she said, "that it’s easy to miss out on what really matters. Make a mental photo album throughout the day, and really store up those precious moments you want to remember forever.” I took her advice and every time I experienced a moment that I wanted to remember, I let the time slow down, I observed all five senses, and I sort of made an imprint of the moment on my brain. I can still remember the feel and smell of the handkerchief that Robbie passed to me before I walked down the aisle, I still remember the teary look in his eyes as we said our vows and mmm, the communion bread, I can still taste it. So many other small moments with my family members and friends from every place that I have lived all in one place, I stored them in my mind like treasures in a treasure chest.
Since then, I’ve tried to do this with other events like the birth of our beautiful baby girl, although, there are a few smells and experiences I would rather not remember, some of those are also stored up in my memory, filling up that treasure chest with sights, feels and smells of poppy diapers right next to that beautiful handkerchief.
But our physical treasure chests tend to have similar connections. We have trinkets and pay stubs next to awards and baptism gowns, all concrete items we can hold and be transported back to those memories, like port-keys in a Harry Potter book. But unlike a physical treasure chest, our memory tends to treasure events which we don’t intend to put in there. Like moths messing around and destroying the things that bring us joy, the memories of traumatic experiences take up needed space and eat away at our energy to hold onto happiness.
In fact while studying the effects of post-traumatic stress disorders, neuroscientists have discovered that certain parts of the brain literally hold onto those memories and are unable to process them. To release and find healing after a traumatic event, our right and left brains have to work together to make sense of what we have seen, heard, felt and experienced. Art, poetry and body work have been much more successful with helping individuals heal old wounds, and the science supports that the use of a variety of mental skills allow for these memories to soften and be integrated such that these experiences may be accessed for our benefit rather than our harm.
These captivating memories don’t have to be traumatic to leave an impression or take up space in the treasure chest of our hearts. Like humble and common coal transforming into diamonds, ordinary memories will develop under stress into complex crystals which can either cut you deeply or remind you of beauty.
When we sleep, our brains do most of the work of storing, processing and categorizing our information of the day, but many religious leaders and psychologists have developed tools to prepare the mind and heart to process the events of the day so that our treasure chests reflect a well ordered and peaceful soul.
The Daily Examen is one of those tools and was developed by the monastic leader St. Ignatius and practiced by many monks and other Christians looking to deepen their spiritual life.
I invite you to begin this practice before bed or sometime in the evening as a way to process the events of your day and store up treasures in heaven, treasures which remind you of God’s love and abundance instead of the world’s pain and scarcity.
1. Breathe and rest in the stillness. (Breathe in and breath out the peace and grace of God.)
2. Become aware of God’s presence. (We claim this in faith. Even and especially when God seems far away, God is always there. Claim it.)
3. Review the day and give thanks. (This might be quick, but it might take longer on full days.)
4. Notice what feelings come to the surface. (Observe your emotions without judgement. Ignore the “should'a, would'a, could’a's” and simply be in the moment with what is.)
5. Select one feeling and write, draw or pray about it. (I recommend you record this in your paper journal or in a note or voice recording app on your phone.)
6. Ask God to prepare tomorrow with hope.
Finish your prayer with an Amen, with a prayer that our faithful God would bring this prayer into being.
In God we find our beginning and our end. From dust you came and to dust you will return. You are beloved and redeemed. Let us live as treasured human beings.