We are now more than half way through 2020. In light of the many surprising ways the year has unfolded up until this point, I imagine we have all learned a thing or two about ourselves that we hadn’t given much thought to when we were naively setting new year’s resolutions and making plans in our crisp, new, planners last January.
I know I have.
Some of these lessons have been simple enough: learning to be creative with the canned goods in my cabinets, logging in to my (now) virtual meetings, or the ability to pivot, scrapping long-anticipated plans.
Others lessons have highlighted my tremendous gratitude for teachers, grocers, healthcare workers, social service providers, delivery truck drivers, and postal workers that have maintained a semblance of normalcy in times that were anything but.
In hindsight, these “lessons” look a bit more like elementary assignments preparing me for the work of the rest of the year.
Other lessons have been more complex, moving quickly away from simple routine and adaptations into a new and unfamiliar terrain. For example, in this wilderness of a year, I have learned that I can quickly react out of fear and selfishness when my assumption has always been that I would do just the opposite. I have learned in newer, far-reaching ways that my experience has been one of privilege, and not just during the pandemic.
Stepping back long enough to examine this truth has been the most recent, most important revelation that has come to pass during this time of isolation and it deserves some attention, not to mention, guidance. It can be difficult to notice things about ourselves that we don’t like, and often we feel at a loss to address them, so we don’t.
Gratefully, the man whose feast we celebrate today has a great deal to share in terms of discernment and self-reflection: two habits that would serve us well as we continue in this place of wilderness.
Finding God in All Things
Saint Ignatius of Loyola helped to form the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1539. Saint Ignatius had a tremendous conversion to faith while recovering from an injury from a cannon ball received in battle, where he had only two books to read: One on Jesus, one on the Saints. He was captivated by the idea of being a knight, but his concept of whom he would serve had completely shifted.
After his recovery, Ignatius began study for religious life. His instruction to early Jesuits was to go out and “find God in all things.” Jesuits are known for their long history of missionary work and education, but most especially for spiritual direction and retreats.
Saint Ignatius’ well-known work, The Spiritual Exercises, has guided the faithful through retreats and discernment for hundreds of years. Included in the text is a daily practice of examination known simply as the Examen. It can be used anywhere and by anyone, but it is intended to be implemented each day in an effort to reflect on the ways that an individual was able to find God in all things/may have missed opportunities to find God in all things.
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The Examen: Crossroads of Opportunity and Need for Self-Reflection
In honor of his feast today, and because we have never been at a better crossroad of opportunity for prayer (postponed summer plans) and need for self-reflection, here is the basic process of praying the Examen:
1.Place yourself in the presence of God. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
For many of us, we have a good sense in our heads that God loves us, but when was the last time you experienced that in your heart? The practice of allowing ourselves to be loved and to revel in being beloved is its own gift in prayer. Begin here.
2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
Sometimes the hand of God is evident in the day-to-day of your vocation, but not always. Particularly if you find yourself in a time of confusion or frustration, asking for the grace to see God’s action in our lives can provide much solace.
3. Review your day—recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
This can look a little bit like “roses and thorns” of summer camp fame: what were 1-2 great things about the day? What moments/opportunities do you now understand could have gone differently? How did each make you feel?
4. Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
Focusing on the way you experienced the interaction is a big part of discernment. Asking ourselves whether our response moved us nearer or further from God is a helpful way to navigate moving forward and how God is calling us to act.
5. Look toward tomorrow—think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific, and conclude with the “Our Father.”
Notice your awareness of God in your day, today. In the circumstances that are coming in the day ahead, what are a couple of concrete ways that you can already commit to that might provide greater opportunity for collaboration in God’s plan? Finally, close in prayer.
For this and other Ignatian prayer resources, click here.
This prayer practice might be familiar to you, or a fresh take on daily reflection. Many appreciate the accountability as well as the guidance through circumstances that feel unsurmountable or isolating—whether swamped with kiddos underfoot, making tough, corporate decisions, or caring for an ailing family member, utilizing the Examen is a great reminder that we can seek (and find) God in all things.
Since the object of our love is infinite, we can always love more and more perfectly.
-Saint Ignatius of Loyola
How have you been/might you be surprised to find God at work in situations that you hadn’t previously considered?
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