My small group started a new series that corresponds well with this theme of deepening faith. For Lent, we decided to focus on trying some new spiritual disciplines and forms of contemplative prayer. We started with a classic: the Ignatian Examen. Many of you know that my undergrad and graduate work has mostly been with Jesuits, so the Ignatian tradition is very close to my heart. There is so much richness there.
The examen was created by Ignatius in the early 16th century as a spiritual practice for the Jesuit brothers. For 10-15 minutes twice a day, they could enter into deeper conversation with God and reflect on their lives. There are all sorts of variations on the Examen, and you can try a variety of different formats until you find one that works for you. Here are the five basic steps:
- Recognize that you are in the presence of God
You are already in God’s presence. Take a moment to still your spirit and become aware of God’s presence with you right now.
- Recall your day with gratitude
Think back on your last 24 hours: what you did, what you felt. Be especially mindful of what you have been thankful for in the last day.
- Focus on something that stands out to you, and ask the Holy Spirit for help
Let the Holy Spirit bring forward something that seems important from the last day, whether it was a moment of struggle, joy, or quiet. Focus on that moment and ask yourself how God was present in it.
- Review your day
Ask yourself some questions as you’re reflecting on your day, such as:
Where did I fail today? Where did I love?
Where was I drawn to God, and what did I learn about God?
Did I bring Christ to my community? Did they bring Christ to me?
Did I reach out to the lonely, the marginalized, the suffering?
Was I aware of God’s work in my own community, family, workplace, or city?
Where was I aware of God’s presence? Where did I forget it?
Is there a part of my heart God is calling me to change?
- Reconcile yourself to God and resolve to move forward tomorrow
Whatever came up for you during your examen, you can bring it to God. Remember that God’s grace covers you, and you are forgiven any failings in your day. Remember that God’s mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and that you can begin again tomorrow to live into the person you want to be.
For me, the examen is about living daily life with attentiveness and intentionality. It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from nineteenth century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.
What is God inviting you to pay attention to right now? What prevents you from noticing the burning bushes in your every day existence? What opens your eyes to the possibility of the impossible in your life? Who are you struggling to become, and where do you see those changes being made possible in your daily interactions?