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January 5, 2022

Noticing God in the New Year

I have a growing conviction that the Reformed emphasis on right theology has us living far too much in our heads and not enough in our bodies. As a result we miss out on many of the good gifts God surrounds us with daily, brushing blindly past them, distracted and absorbed with the thoughts in our heads.

Are you familiar with elephant toothpaste? Thanks to my kid’s recent discovery of Mark Rober on YouTube (former NASA engineer turned YouTube mad scientist) I was introduced to this interesting foamy substance that erupts and grows at alarming speed when you combine small quantities of hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, food coloring, and yeast.

In Luke 6:38 Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” I’ve always liked this encouragement from Jesus to live generously. Our family tries to live this way, particularly around the holidays. But as I hang the new 2022 family calendar full of photos of cute kids, I glance around my living room and can’t help thinking that the proliferation of Christmas gifts and tired Christmas decorations is just a bit much, bearing a striking resemblance to elephant toothpaste in its alarmingly quick rate of expansion.

Like some of you, thanks to COVID-19 I am again working entirely from home. There have been many blessings associated with this; working in my pj’s, after school hugs from my kids, and slices of fresh baked bread slathered in butter and jam for mid-morning snacks. But working from home also means that the geyser of chaos in my home invades not only my home brain but also my work brain. As I write I am willfully ignoring the half finished Christmas craft project involving a ball of twine and an entire bottle of Elmer’s glue overturned on the kitchen table, the mound of dirty clothes escaping the bounds of the laundry room and oozing into the hallway, and the news that our local school district has just postponed the post-holiday return to school so everyone can get tested for COVID. As we head into our third year affected by the disruption of COVID, my brain feels very much like it has been overtaken by elephant toothpaste. It is a struggle, to say the least, to keep my interior world ordered in the midst of the chaos around me.

I am a Reformed Protestant through and through. However, I have a growing conviction that the Reformed emphasis on right theology has us living far too much in our heads and not enough in our bodies. As a result we miss out on many of the good gifts God surrounds us with daily, brushing blindly past them, distracted and absorbed with the thoughts in our heads.

As a spiritual director, I sit with people every day facing these same challenges. I am finding one practice to be particularly helpful for people wanting to notice and respond to what God is doing in the midst of the chaos of life. The Examen, a prayer developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the late 16th century, simply invites prayerful reflection back over the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction.

I recently discovered a delightful book, Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses written by Ginny Kubitz Moyer, a highschool English teacher and mom of two boys in San Francisco. Ginny’s conviction is that God is present in all things and that each of us have at our disposal five vital tools for finding God in all things; our five senses. Through use of the Examen, Ginny guides readers to notice God’s presence and experience his lavish gifts daily.

“How does God speak to you? If you’re like most of us . . . God speaks to [you] not in mystical, abstract ways but through the stuff of daily life . . . using the language [you] know best- the language of the five senses” 

It can be easy to focus on the Elmer’s glue dripping off the kitchen table and miss the gift of the loving family that bequeathed that craft kit to your daughter. The trail of muddy, soggy footprints extending from your backdoor to the bathroom might incline you to pour another glass of wine, but the Examen gently helps reorient our focus to the presence and action of God in the midst of the ordinary.

As you enter this new year, consider trying this simple Examen exercise, taken from Kubitz Moyer’s first chapter on color, to help you notice the gifts of God around you.

Think about the variety of colors in the world. Ponder the fact that the human race reflects that diversity. Give thanks to God for treating us to such visual richness.

Go back through your day, and think of the colors that you saw. Take a moment to recall some of the most memorable ones, the ones that caught your eye in particular.

Try looking at your immediate surroundings. How many different colors do you see? Really notice them, and the variety. [Thank God for the visual beauty of colors before you.]

Think of times when you have experienced the diversity of humanity. When have you seen that diversity as something to celebrate?

Have you ever wished that everyone else looked more like you? Speak to God about this. 

To explore the Examen further, you might also check out the website Pray As You Go. This online resource has a variety of Examen prayers you can listen to at the end of your day. Reformed Worship subscribers also have access to a worship service with a video to lead you through a corporate Examen as you begin the new year with your community. See “Tracing God’s Footsteps” on p. 31 in RW 142.

As you enter this new year,

may you be open to the blessings of God,

available to you through each of your five senses.

May God bless you,

through the smell of a home cooked meal,

through the touch of a gentle breeze on your face,

and through the taste of a fresh baked slice of buttered bread.

May God bless you,

through the visual beauty of Creation,

and through the sound of laughter among friends. Amen

 –Summer Mohrlang

Rev. Summer Mohrlang is a CRC pastor and the Executive Director of SoulFormation, an organization located in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to the flourishing of Christian leaders. She is also a spiritual director, wife, mother and lover of coffee and super cozy blankets