Rev. Dena McPhetres

I believe that honesty is the first step toward living a life of integrity. To align one’s actions with one’s words is a common goal of those in liberal faith communities. We respect people who have integrity. It takes work to get there, however. It requires reflection, practice, and returning to self-examen again and again. Being honest with ourselves is the place to start.

The word “examen” may be familiar to those who are former Catholics. It means “formal examination of the soul or conscience, usually made daily by Jesuits and other Roman Catholics.” The word comes from the Latin “exigere,” to weigh accurately.

Reflective living involves asking ourselves how we are being and how we are doing—how close did we come today to being our best selves? How close did we come to aligning what we believe inside with how we act outside? True answers require being honest with ourselves. And trying again the next day.

Margaret Silf’s book “Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality” orients the reader to a process of self-reflection, honesty, and integrity. She suggests we think of our life as three concentric circles. “The center of the circles asks, Who Am I? This is the center of my being where I am who I truly am. The next circle asks, How Am I? The areas of my life where I make personal choices and exercise some control. The outermost circle asks, Where Am I? The givenness of the facts and circumstances of my life, the things I cannot change.”

Her recommendation is to start with the outermost circle because it is the easiest to notice, then move inward finding our own honest answers to the questions. Practicing this over time can bring us into greater alignment with our
beliefs and values, and make us into a person and a people of honest integrity. Silf claims that this process can help us “move from being a person to whom things happen, through the realization that we can influence what happens, to the acceptance of personal responsibility for being an event who happens to others.”

We might think we already know this and do this, but I wonder if we do. If I’m being honest, I’m sure there is more I can learn through traveling through these concentric circles of reflection. Maybe you can, too?


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