Contemplation

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I thought I’d have a go at the first post. A Core Practice that has been most meaningful to me in recent months is the Examen. The Examen (a.k.a. Awareness Examen, Daily Examen, Highs & Lows) was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century and is super easy to practice.

  1. Get some quiet mental space and invite God into it.
  2. Think back over the past day as if you were watching a movie of all that happened.
  3. Think about where you experienced God’s presence during this time. When did you feel alive, peaceful, joyful, excited, compassionate, etc.? Allow your thoughts to be drawn to one (or more) of these moments that stand out to you as a “high” and talk to God about it. Ask God and yourself questions about why this feels like a high point? Is there anything that God might be drawing my attention to?
  4. Now do the same process but this time focus on times that felt like “lows”. These may be times when you hurt others or when they hurt you, or when you encountered some sort of hopelessness, stress, lack of peace, frustration, etc. Often one or two of these moments will stand out to you; press into these moments a bit and reflect on why you felt disconnected from God’s presence during these times.
  5. Consider if there are some things that you can take away from this time of reflection (from the highs and/or the lows). Contemplation is at it’s fullest when it leads to some sort of action. What challenges do you sense God might be calling you to? Do you need to forgive someone? Is God reminding you to slow down and spend more time with family? Is there anything you’d like to try to do a bit differently tomorrow in light of today’s reflections?
  6. End by giving thanks to God for this time. Remember to give thanks for the high points and for an awareness of the low points. And be honest about the low points too – give thanks for God’s presence in the midst of both seasons.

This process can be done in as little as a few minutes and seems so simple that it doesn’t even feel like “hard work”. But I’ve been amazed at how often this process has brought to mind things that I wouldn’t have normally noticed in my day.

For example, most of my highs relate to interactions with people. They are often little moments in the day when someone gave me a hug, or I played with my daughter, or when a few of us cooked in the kitchen together. Moments that I could have easily overlooked and assumed that the real accomplishments that I made in the day related to “getting stuff done” (for anyone who knows me, you’ll know that this is very counter-intuitive for my personality type).

The other way that I’ve found this exercise helpful is that during the day I often feel negative emotions that I can’t always identify at the time. I’ll just notice that I’m feeling an unpleasant emotion, but since I’m rushing around, I may not give it much time. But the emotion does not go away and I find my self feeling a bit down but not knowing why.

Often by reflecting on it I’m able to identify times when: someone was rude to me and I thought I was over it,  I hurt someone else,  I was disappointed, I was tired, I handled situations badly, I was stressed/anxious, I was aware of brokenness in the world around me, etc. Identifying these times helps me to then talk to God about them in lament and allows these moments of disconnectedness to reconnect me with Him.

Last thought. One surprising by-product of this practice has been that I am sometimes more aware of highs and lows during the day and not just when I stop to reflect in the evening. I’ve found that this exercise has underlying principles that work 24 hours/day to help me be more connected with reality and to invite God into it.

P.S. Rachael Barham did a great talk about the Examen last year. You can listen to the audio here.

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