St. Ignatius proposed a simple daily exercise called the Examen. It is a prayerful examination of what God has been doing and giving to a person in the events of the day.
One practical way of doing the Examen is to prayerfully consider before going to bed, five gifts or blessings we have received during that day. Doing this daily, we become more aware of God's gifts, and of God himself as a giver of gifts, rather than only as a judge. We begin to see his goodness where before we saw only his supposed absence. The more we see with our eyes, the more we can experience with our heart.
From here we can move to the second part of the Examen, in which we discover five moments when we were invited to give of ourselves, five occasions in which grace was inviting us to generosity. We then thank God where we have succeeded, and ask for forgiveness where we struggled and failed. This practice helps us to refocus our thirst for God who alone can truly satisfy us.
Another type of examen is to simply review our graced history over a specific period of time or even over our whole life to date. To celebrate her 50th birthday, Regina Brett recently updated her list of life's lessons recently published in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer:
- Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
- When in doubt, just take the next small step.
- Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
- Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
- Pay off your credit cards every month.
- You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
- Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
- It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
- Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
- When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
- Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
- It's OK to let your children see you cry.
- Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
- If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
- Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
- Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
- You can get through anything if you stay put in today.
- A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.
- It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
- When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
- Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
- Over-prepare, then go with the flow.
- Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
- The most important sex organ is the brain.
- No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
- Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?"
- Always choose life.
- Forgive everyone everything.
- What other people think of you is none of your business.
- Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
- However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
- Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
- Believe in miracles.
- God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
- Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
- Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
- Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.
- Read some good books. They cover every human emotion.
- Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
- If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
- Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
- Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
- All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
- Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
- The best is yet to come.
- No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
- Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
- If you don't ask, you don't get.
- Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.
I can identify with most of Regina's lessons, except for the one about "fancy lingerie," but being a bit older, I have probably made more mistakes and learned a few additional lessons:
- No one makes an ethical choice that affects only oneself.
- An excess of possessions is a threat to the happiness.
- If a gift is large and the reason small, it is usually a bribe - for favourable action or silence.
- Somebody owns almost everything except sea and sky, which belong to all.
- Land is owned under a variety of cultural understandings, but basically it is the Lord's.
- The earth is rich but it is plundered to poverty for the sake of short-term wealth.
- Sexual pleasure and rights are real but strictly limited by one's state or condition in life.
- Speak the truth and answer truthfully if the questioner has a right to know.
- Liars hope to gain an advantage, but in destroying their credibility, they lose themselves.
- Any progress upward at the expense of another is too dearly bought.
- It is grievously wrong to diminish life's vigour, starting with one's own.
- Anonymity and rationalizations do not lessen wrong doing.
- Violence of any kind may not be exercised in response to the conduct of a spouse or child.
- Too many persons are victims of injustice and too many enjoy playing the role of victim.
- You are special.
As we begin to begin to be more aware of the anointing of God in and on everything; it becomes habitual and the lessons learned can be enlightening and encouraging.
☩ Frederick Henry