It is the beginning of a new year and, perhaps, following the tragedy of the Tsunami we might approach it with a sense of gratitude and humility for the privilege of life still before us. How, then, can we be more open to God's invitation to live a wholesome holiness....
Finding God in all things is the catch phrase of Ignatian spirituality... It is a key concept in the return to a more grounded, more experiential faith. And it characterises Ignatian spirituality - from which we get the Examen.
Many of us are no longer satisfied with a God who sits above us, aloof - requiring a radical departure or denial of our everyday realities - inner and outer. Though we must certainly accept that God cannot be reduced to our realities ( he is always also utterly other!) we are it seems, reclaiming the incarnational God - the God revealed in human form - vulnerable, ordinary, desiring, suffering, transformed.
The Examen is a prayer practice, articulated and made popular by a man who came to be known as Ignatius of Loyola - born in the late 15th C in Northern Spain. It is, in short, a way of listening to our selves and to God. It is a practice of listening contemplatively to our own lives. It is a tool for discerning the presence and absence of God in our lives.
God is constantly revealing himself to us in our experience. It is because God is present and available to human experience that we have a divinely inspired story to tell. Someone has called it - reading the scripture of our life...
St Ignatius, in his teaching of the Examen expected that God would speak through our deepest feelings and yearning, what he called consolation and desolation. Consolation is whatever helps us to connect in love to ourselves, others, God and the universe. In his language - whatever leads to an increase in faith, hope and love. Desolation is whatever blocks that connection...
So what follows is this - if we can reflect upon what in our life connects us to Life, love, faith, hope, peace... the qualities of the spirit... we can track where it is God is most available to us - or, more precisely, where we are most available to God. And the opposite - if we can see where it is we are being drained of life - and then think about how we block God in those areas... This is not the same as feeling merely good or bad.
The point is - to discern God's presence and will is no longer a case of looking 'out there' - but inside...
The Examen is traditionally done on a daily basis - but can usefully be applied to all sorts of other times -
I'd like to lead you in an Examen of the last year as a way of entering this New year with more awareness of where God is speaking to you in your life...and where you find yourself being drawn away from God's love.
I invite you, then, to read the scripture of your life...
Examen of the Year
Take a moment to find a comfortable position (the great masters of prayer never neglected the body!) Find a position which is relaxed but alert... A simple and longstanding technique at the beginning of meditation is to use the noticing of our breath to gently bring our awareness and focus inwards.
Come near and listen to this:
from the beginning I have never spoken to you obscurely,
and all the time these things have been happening, I have been present
Thus says Yaweh, your redeemer, the Holy One:
I, your God, teach you what is good for you,
I lead you in the way that you must go.
If only you had been alert...
Become more fully aware now of being in the presence of God: in the
presence of love...
You are precious in my eyes and honoured and I love you...
How are you in your body? Let your body be before God
How are you in your mind? Let your mind be before God
How are you in your feelings? Let your feelings be before God
In God we live, and move and have our being...
Give thanks for the presence of God in our humanity. In our physical, intellectual, emotional realities.
The word became flesh and dwelt among us...
Give thanks for the reality of God loving and living in us and through us...
Ask God now to help you to see and to understand how her love has been working within you over the last year. Ask God's spirit to enlighten and guide your thoughts.
Cleanse the thoughts of our heart by the inspiration of your holy spirit...
Begin to let yourself remember the last year... don't try too hard... At first, just scan the year and get a sense of it... Christmas and the time leading up to it... Autumn...... Summer...... Spring..... the year beginning 2004.....
Now let come what comes at first when you ask the questions:
When did I feel best able to give and receive love?
What caused in me an increase in faith, hope and love?
Where was I drawn to God?
In fears, in joy, in pain, in creativity?
In prayer, in liturgy, scripture, creation?
In work or leisure?
In family, friend, colleague, church community, neighbour?
Did I feel myself being nudged or prompted in any particular way?
Out of all the year's experiences, is there one experience, that I feel most grateful for?
Relish these moments of consolation - of revelation...
Sorrow and Regret
Look again back over the year. When was I aware of God's absence?
When did I feel least able to give or receive love?
What caused in me a decrease in faith, hope and love?
When did I fail to respond to His love at work in me?
Without harsh judgement, just let yourself look at that experience.
In the light of God's love - what would you like to say to God about that time, event, experience? What does God want to say to you?
Hope for the Future
And now, coming back into the present:
What insight, revelation, grace do I receive from the experiences of the last year?
Having reviewed the last year - what gift do I hold for the new year?
What would I like to bring into the new year.
Find a word or a phrase or an image to represent what you'd like to bring into the New Year...
Keep that word or phrase or image in your heart over the next year. You might like to adapt this examen for use everyday or weekly.
This is what I shall tell my heart and so recover hope:
The favours of the Lord are not all past,
his kindnesses are not exhausted
his mercies are new every morning
Great is his faithfulness...
Yaweh is good to those who trust him
To the soul that searches for him...
Let's pray for the grace to move into this new year with love, faith and hope... for the grace to bring more of what gives us life... for the grace to continue to recognise God in our daily life...
The Four Quartets
But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint -
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost is a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts...