Heading Toward A New Year
One of the greatest gifts I received during my educational journey was discovering an Ignatian spiritual practice called the Daily Examine. This year I will be taking a couple days to reflect on my year using this practice. The Examine is a daily practice, and the particular components can be altered and modified. I am going to use the practice to review the last year and plan for the next. I want to share how I practice the Examine and invite you to join with me as a new year approaches.
1. Ask for and become aware of God’s presence.
Give yourself patience because this can be difficult. You may have never sat in silence purposely seeking the presence of God. Awareness of God’s presence takes practice and intention. Give yourself time and grace to become aware of the presence of God. You may not be able to complete this exercise in a couple of hours or even a day. Start by disconnecting from the world and asking God to be present in the moment. Continue each day or whenever you have the opportunity. You will soon find that God draws near to those that desire to draw near to God.
2. Review the past with gratitude.
Ignatius expected his community to practice The Daily Examine twice a day, once after lunch and right before bed. The purpose was to train hearts and minds to become people of gratitude that could praise God for even the most ordinary events in life. It also allowed the community to be grateful for those events that seemed difficult.
3. Ask where you most felt joy and God’s presence during the day.
We live in a culture of anxiety. Anxiety kills even the anticipation of joy. Fewer and fewer people experience joy in our culture. Instead, we feel a constant nagging that something isn’t right. We can’t put our finger on exactly why, but we feel it.
By practicing this Examen, we can track the times in the day where we felt less anxious and more connected to God, our fellow human beings, and to God’s creation. We discover patterns and activities that give us life and breaks the chains of our constant anxieties. Joy may come through worship, through a small conversation with a family member, it could be the completion of a big project, whatever brought you joy and an awareness of God’s presence is worth noting. Over time you will see that certain activities bring you life, so maybe you should spend more of your time pursuing those activities.
4. Ask where you felt the least joy and most disconnected to God.
There are moments and activities in my day that can drain me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Over time I have identified certain people and activities that drain my spirituality and joy. In ministry, I find myself around people that are an anxious presence. I feel like I must guard myself around them. I have to watch what I say. Even more critical, I have to be careful of what I hear from them. I must stay aware that the conversation we have doesn’t devolve into a gossip session.
There are activities that I get into, mostly voluntary, trying to serve my community or to help out people when they are down on their luck. The problem is that I have spread myself too thin and I am no longer bringing joy to myself, the people I am serving or to God because my spirit has been quenched.
Then there is the sin that so easily entangles us. I feel least connected to God when I sin. Sometimes its sins of commission, sometimes sins of omission, but it kills my joy, and it makes me feel disconnected with God and my community.
5. Ask God to help you overcome those things which separated you from your community and God. Another question is to ask God, “What can I do to be a better servant and loving Child of God?”
After taking time to listen, then you pray that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, teaches us to pick up those habits which are good and we lay down those that lead to death in ourselves. After performing this examine every day over a period of time, you will be able to prioritize your life in the light of God’s presence. Paul writes,
Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
While you may not do this every day, I invite you to take a couple of days to review the year with gratitude in the presence of God. Ask God to reveal to you the events of the year that pushed you closer to God and your community. Think about the things which brought you frustration, stole your joy, and broke your communion with God and your community. Finally, in the presence of God prioritize this next year.
May God bless you in this exercise and may the Peace of Christ be with you,