July 23, 2020 — I used to wrestle with a spirituality of striving, of grasping. I used to think I had to be more or do more to please God.
The Examen changed all of that for me. It is the prayer that changed everything.
Before I began to incorporate the Examen into my daily prayer life, spirituality was about “doing” lots of holy things for God: going to weekly Adoration, attending extra daily Masses, reading spiritual books.
I viewed these things as items to mark off my spiritual checklist. Prayed extra? Check. Spent more time in daily prayer than the day before yesterday? Check, check. Looked holy by doing all the things? Triple check.
Living out of this yoke — this striving, grasping — kept me from seeing that a relationship with God is about being, not endless doing. It is continual and evolving.
Perhaps it is best described in the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who perished at Auschwitz: My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with you, o my God.
As I read more books on Ignatian spirituality and practiced the Examen, I learned to encounter the presence of God through my experiences and emotions in daily life. I saw God in a new way: He wanted me to rest and just be more often. God saw my growing exhaustion and wanted to carry it for me. In time, I saw my relationship with God as not the burden that I had made it out to be but rather as an opportunity. I felt seen, known. I was relieved to discover that I could stop performing so much.
The Examen teaches us that God is found in the humdrum of daily life, through the ebb and flow of highs and lows, joys and sorrows. The presence of the living God can be experienced in our thoughts, emotions, feelings and desires; both the happy and uncomfortable ones.
Incorporating a daily Examen into my life helped me realize that truly living a spiritual life is about practicing the presence of God every moment of every day. I liken it to being a detective in your own life; you are becoming more aware of seeing where God is at work.
You might ask: When did I feel close to God? When did I feel distant from God? What were the blessings of the past day? Do I need to repent for something or ask forgiveness? As I look ahead to tomorrow, what do I sense God is saying to me?
It is a prayer that focuses on God’s real, tangible presence in the world around you. The Examen helped train my heart and mind to see the world around me in new ways. I began to see and understand the presence of God in all things. It was something I could tap into. My entire life was swimming in the rich presence of God; I simply had to grow to live with a deeper sense of this awareness.
I began to let go of my controlled, formulaic way of prayer. I asked Jesus what he wanted my prayer to look like, and then I tried to get out of the way.
I began to ask Jesus open-ended questions in my prayer: What do you think about this situation with a difficult coworker? What do you have to say to me about this man I have been dating seriously? What do you think about where our relationship is going?
I began to notice things in my life I had never seen before. I was more attuned to my thoughts, emotions and desires and started to see how they all played a role in my relationship to God. How I felt about someone or a particular life situation profoundly mattered to Jesus.
St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds me that I do not have to go out searching and looking to find the presence of God. Rather, God’s presence is all around me in my daily life. What would our lives look like if we believed this or paid greater attention to the details? What are the things we would see and experience with more clarity and focus?
I think we would be surprised by the new ways God would move and speak to us. We would experience more meaningful prayer and pay better attention to the details of our daily lives.
May we not take for granted the presence of the living God — moving, breathing and active in every aspect of our lives.
Patty Breen has been working in lay ministry for over ten years and is a writer for Blessed is She. A Midwestern girl from the Mitten state, Patty finds joy in running, strong cups of coffee, and writing. She is passionate about messy conversations at the intersection of faith, culture, and ministry.