The Examen is a daily prayer that St. Ignatius required the monks in his charge to perform. It involved looking back at your day and trying to find God in it, and then looking forward to your next day and praying about it.
I wrote this Examen out for my ministry’s Senior Night. Graduating seniors were asked if they wanted to speak about a thing God has shown you or how your faith has developed. I couldn’t really put any of that into a neat sermon, but I can reflect. So I did. I took the Examen method and applied it to the last four years.
- Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
- Perhaps it would be appropriate to speak about who I thought God was before I started college but this journey has been long, confusing, and I don’t think I can recall a clear picture of the God I knew at 17 with the God I know now in front of me. I do remember confusion and maybe it is that veil of hurt, confusion, and pent-up anger that clouds the memory I want to recall.
- An honest answer would be acknowledging that the God I knew at 17 was a product of the lessons I was taught about God. There’s a really common understanding of God, and its easy to fall into this trap, but the misunderstanding is that if you are a good Christian and a good person then God’s blessings will pour over your life. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you…” I had experienced enough tragedy and emotional turmoil by that point to understand that God isn’t a genie nor is He a shield behind which we can choose to stand so that we are not hurt. But I was confused as to what it meant to receive God’s blessings and still experience emotional trauma.
- The misunderstanding is not that God does not pour his blessings over you, the misunderstanding is what we consider a blessing to be. I have many, many blessings in this life but none of them are what I expected to have and many of them are not tangible objects- they are experiences, knowledge, people, and talents. The biggest blessing that God gives us, however, is himself. When our interests and our desires align with the interests and desires of God himself, then it is impossible not to be blessed in them.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Pay attention to the small things. God is in the details.
- I can’t begin to list all the simple joys that added up over time to make me who I am today. For all the rough patches, from where I am standing, the years seem pretty rose colored and I thank God for that.
- I am most grateful for the people who have come into my life over these four years. Mentors who taught me how to soften my heart. Weekly catch ups over coffee, with friends, sharing deep wounds and far-flung hopes. A friend who has showed me how to struggle gracefully and falter without losing hope, with the full acknowledgement that things can get very bad, and seem pretty bleak, but if we let ourselves struggle and just keep breathing, the seasons come and go, and that is, sometimes, just enough. Her bravery and stoicism are so deeply admired and our friendship is one of my greatest treasures. My boyfriend and the growth we have gone through over four years cannot be contained inside that single word but I use it for lack of a better one. His support and love are irreplaceable. Reverends who listened, and really saw me and thought I was worth investing in. A professor from whose lectures I always took more than I think he intended to give; like if showing grace to the people of the past is called objectivity, showing grace to the people in our present is called salvation. You don’t study history to look for heroes or villains, because inside everyone is potential for both hatred and violence. Because no one is perfect and salvation isn’t so much a ticket to Heaven as it is freedom from the weight of having to be more than we are.
- It is in the faces of these people where I learned to see the face of God, sometimes in the smallest acts of faith or the most honest questions. Once we begin to see the face of God in our friends and loved ones, it is then that we must take that image and project it onto the faces of all of God’s children. God is in every person that we don’t know, sometimes buried so far beneath agony, doubt, and anger that pithy cards with rainbows and scripture could not even begin to scratch the surface. But honest, intentional conversation could. We are given light only so that we can spread it.
- Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions.
- I look back and see a lot of emotions and many of them are positive but the one my mind fixes on is fear, because it seems like my battle with overcoming fears has been constant and unrelenting.
- I began college with optimism shrouded in lingering heartbreak and uncertainty. Those first few years were so clouded by apprehension and the fear of an uncertain future. There were real moments where I was not sure if I would be in school the next semester. And now there is so much to be afraid of outside of our own lives, terrorism, war, hunger, natural disaster, disease…but the future has always been uncertain and the world has always been scary. God has shown me, through patient reminders and consistency of action, the righteousness of his command: Be not afraid, because fear is useless. It is a real emotion and I don’t want to diminish that. But we should try to not to dwell on it. It is not like anger, which, if we are aware of where it is coming from we can use, because anger inspires action. Fear paralyzes and it is of no use to anyone that we give into it.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart.
- Here are five things I think I can speak with some semblance of certainty.
- Stewardship is responsibility, not dominion. God lead us away from the desire to control and exploit and show us how to care for what you have given us.
- Worrying and fretting about finances, grades, anything, to the point where it takes over our minds, prevents us from carrying out our orders to love fully and love fearlessly. Everything we have, everything we own, everyone we love….is a vapor. But Jesus came to show us a better way and died to overcome our sin, and was resurrected into a new kingdom that we get to, each and every day, be a part of. Jesus, show us how to walk away from our fears.
- Question your past, question your government, love, forgive, rinse, repeat. Lord, may we always seek to know you better in the face of our greatest doubts, may we recognize injustice even when it requires removing ourselves from the beaten path.
- God is in our science text books, he is in our history, he is in our art. There is nothing secular, how could there be? For, I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life (…)—not even the powers of hell. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- We are finite, every breath we breathe is a breath given back to God – don’t waste it, we have a job. God, may we recognize that our beating hearts are clocks that will run out one day and may that inspire us into action.
- Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding.
- God guide my path but more importantly continue to guide my words and my feelings, continue to show me where they err.
- May my delight be in your word and your Church and may my ambitions and desires be aligned with yours.
- I pray for consistency in thought, word, and action. “Man’s word is God in man”, my word is your witness.
Mary Grace Reynolds
Political Science Major
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville