Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Ending the Day

Putting the House to Bed
My mother often said as she got older it took her longer and longer to get ready for bed. She had lovely skin and took good care of it, but that caretaking involved more and more products and steps with each year. She followed her end of the day routine faithfully, however, and she looked younger than her years, which was important to her. 

My father, who is 91, reads two pages of Luther's Catechism every night. Recently, he has started reading them out loud to himself. I have no idea how many times he has completed the book--how pleased Martin Luther would be--but he says he learns and absorbs something new each time. 

I like turning on the nightstand lamp before the bedroom is engulfed in darkness, but I delay lowering the blinds till just before going to bed. Winter nights I get into pajamas and robe and slippers soon after supper, preparing myself for an evening of cozy reading or watching television. Then when sleeps begins to overcome me, I am ready for bed. I may read a bit more in bed, but more often these days once I am in bed I close my eyes and say my final prayers of the day.

What signals your end of the day? Do you have a routine that leads you to bedtime and a night's rest? Are there tasks that are part of bringing the day to its conclusion? What brings you comfort at the end of the day? 

Benjamin Franklin started his day by asking himself, "What good shall I do this day?" and ended it with the follow-up question, "What good have I done today?" 

Just imagine what could happen in our world if we each held those two questions within our hearts and acted upon them each day? Joyce Rupp in her book The Cup of Our Life, A Guide for Spiritual Growth suggests we "wrap the day with the ribbon of prayer," using the following questions as a guide:
       1. How open or aware was I to the presence of God in my 
       2. What kind of nourishment did I receive?
           What kind of nourishment did I give?
       3. Does anything need to be emptied out in order for me to be
           at peace tonight?
       4. For what do I thank God as I prepare to enter into sleep?
                                                                  pages 17-18

The theological term for looking back over the day is called "examen," which is identifiable with an examination, but without the academic context. Richard J. Foster in his classic Prayer, Finding the Heart's True Home, says an examen is an "accurate assessment of the true situation." (p, 27) 

One of the values of developing the practice of examen is to become more aware, more awake as we move through our days from the beginning to the end when our head hits the pillow. Along with noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary, knowing that the examen part of the day is approaching, we are encouraged to remember, to hold onto what has touched us during the day. The process and gift of remembering the present is a valuable practice as we get older and tend to focus more on the past. 

Do we notice the flock of geese overhead? Do we enjoy the young child in the grocery cart ahead of us who tries to get our attention? How present are we to the neighbor on our sidewalk as we unload our groceries? What does the air feel like as we bring in the mail?  Do the leaves appear less green and more gold and red today? 

Who needs our touch today? Our voice? Our thoughts and prayers? 

Foster points out that using the examen, and there are many forms with varying questions to use in your private examination, is a way to go deeper within to your true self, using the outward experiences of the day. That may sound very self-absorbed, but Foster says, "No, it is not a journey into ourselves that we are undertaking but a journey through ourselves so that we can emerge from the deepest level of the self into God. As Saint John Chrysostom notes, 'Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.'" (p. 32) 

Here's what Thich Nhat Hanh says in Present Moment, Wonderful Mment, Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, "We can begin practice beginning anew at any moment of our lives…When we look deeply, we see that beginning anew is possible at any time of our daily lives, at any age." (p. 110)

He opens his meditation on ending the day this way:
          The day is ending,
          our life is one day shorter.
          Let us look carefully
          at what we have done.
          Let us practice diligently,
          putting our whole heart into the path of meditation.
          Let us live deeply each moment in freedom,
          so time does not slip away meaninglessly. 

One of my favorite end of the day prayers is from Illuminata, A Return to Prayer by Marianne Williamson:
         Dear God,,
         I surrender to You the day now over.
         May only the love remain.
         Take all else into the fire of Your transformative power.
         Release me, release others from any effects of my
              wrongmindedness or wrongdoing.
         Dear God,
         Return me to Your light.
         As I now give to You who I am, what I did, who I loved, 
               who I failed to love, please make all things right.
         Take all things.
         May I continue to grow in Your light and love.
         Tomorrow my I be better.

My post last Thursday, "Beginning the Day", offered possibilities for starting the day with a practice of prayer. May I suggest doing the same at the end of the day, creating spiritual bookends for your day. 

An Invitation
What is your night time settling in routine? Does it include a looking back, a letting go, and a moving forward? I would love to know. 

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