As we learned last week, nothing is separate from our life with God. He is always speaking to us, always sowing seeds of his grace in both the miraculous and the mundane. If we want them to grow, we must tend to them with time and attention. Ignatius' most well-known exercise is called the Examen. It is a daily 15-minute practice designed to help us find God in all things by increasing our awareness and receptivity to his activity and presence in the fabric of our everyday life.
When writing a story, a good author wastes nothing. Even details and events that seem inconsequential become woven into the characters and story arc. The Examen is about seeing our whole life as just such a story, which God is unfolding day by day, wasting nothing. In all things he wants to shape us into the image of Christ. We cooperate by being attentive to all the little ways the Holy Spirit continues his creative work. The Examen involves remembering and reflecting on your whole day, trying to be attentive to the way God was at work. There are five steps to this exercise:
- Seek the Light. The promised gifts of the Holy Spirit include illumination, conviction, comfort, guidance, and transformation. Pray for the light of the Holy Spirit to help you see the blur of the day with clarity, even the things you don’t want to remember.
- Give thanks. Express gratitude for your day, for life and all God’s blessings. This frames our reflection on the day in thankfulness, preparing us to see everything as a gift, in and through which we can be led to love and listen to God.
- Reflect. Take the most time here. Carefully go back through the day—the big, small, good, bad, and ugly. Even the most dark or insignificant of things contains the presence of God. Choose and focus on a few events that stand out, noticing where and how…
- my conscience was moved
- emotions, desires, or habits influenced me, good or bad
- an event or encounter stuck with me—a scenario or conversation I keep running in my head
- a thought, word, feeling, or action led me toward or away from God
In these events, how was God was speaking to me? How did I respond? How did I rely on God? How might I have forgotten or wandered from God? Why did I think and act the way I did? What can I learn about myself from it? What can I learn about God from it?
- Respond. Thank God for his presence, guidance, and gracious care. Own up to your failures; ask for forgiveness and for God to transform your heart.
- Resolve. Look to tomorrow. Hear Jesus’ words in the parable of the sower: “Through their resolve, they bear fruit.” Ask for continued grace for the future, to be ever more attentive to God’s presence in everything and to respond to these situations with discernment and love.
Take 15 minutes to do this exercise today, ideally in the evening. If you keep one discipline from this season as a part of your everyday life, the Examen is a great choice. Consider repeating a form of this exercise daily throughout Lent. Time and repetition is essential to opening our awareness to God.