Our fast-paced lives can leave little time for reflection. Yet moments of calm reflection help us appreciate the many blessings of life. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
But often we are too busy to notice this. Every day - and each moment of every day - the sacred tries to communicate its beauty, truth and wisdom but we can miss it if we are too busy or distracted. It’s like being on a bus driving through a beautiful countryside - with the curtains closed.
A practical way of finding the sacred in our daily life is the Examen prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some have called it the “Examen of Consciousness” and, more than any other spiritual practice, it has helped me find the sacred each day. It can be done by anyone, of any religious persuasion or none, in five simple steps:
- Realize you are in the presence of the Sacred: Find a quiet space, one that brings you calm and peace. Feel free to dim the lights, burn some incense or repeat a sacred text or chant - whatever helps you connect with the sacred.
- Slowly Review the Day: Without forcing it in any way, gently let the events of the past day float up in your mind and wash over you. What stands out from today? What do you take away from the day (ie: highlights, key events, meetings, conversations)? Compare the day you planned with the day you actually experienced. Note how they differ and reflect on some of these sacred surprises.
- Identify the Consolations & Desolations: As you reflect on the day, where did you feel an increase of peace, joy, hope and love (consolation)? Where did you feel the opposite, an increase of fear, angst, despair and alienation (desolation)? Let the key moments return to you without judgment, guilt or condemnation. Feel free to linger or dwell on the moments of special significance, letting them nourish your spirit.
- Thanksgiving: Give thanks for all you received today, both the positive and negative moments. What have you learned about yourself from these? What might you do differently next time you are in this situation?
- Look Forward to Tomorrow: As you end this time of prayerful reflection, think of your plans for tomorrow. What are you most looking forward to? What gives you hope and joy? Now that you have found the sacred today, know that it will come to you again tomorrow, often in surprising ways.
This Examen exercise has become a daily practice for me, taking about 15 minutes each evening. When practiced faithfully, it can help us live more intentionally, less frenetically and more attuned to how the sacred comes to us each day. It opens our eyes to recognize the sacred, our ears to hear it and our hearts to feel it.
Rev. Dr. John Meehan, SJ is a Chaplain at the Newman Centre and a past member of the MORSL Multifaith Network.
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