I pray that you may grow in the awareness of God’s continuous presence in your everyday experiences and discover that presence in both the private and public worlds in which you live. Then, later, living in faith and meditating on the word of God, you will be able to find God always, and everywhere seek God’s will in every event. I also pray that you will be able to see Jesus, the Lord, in all people and in all their struggles for liberation and be able to make good judgments and correct decisions in all you do and in all you are. ~ Orientations by John Veltri, S.J.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is one of my favorite comprehensive resources. In this expansive book, she gives a quick overview of more than 40 spiritual practices to deepen your experience of God. She also offers suggestions for practicing each that are tangible and not overwhelming. Below are some questions from this wonderful book that you can use to springboard your own practice of examen:
For what moment today am I most grateful? Least grateful?
When did I give and receive the most love today? The least love?
What was the most life-giving moment of my day? What was the most life-sapping moment of my day?
When today did I have the deepest sense of connection with God, others, and myself? Least sense of connection?
Where was I aware of living out of the fruit of the Spirit? Where was there an absence of the Spirit?
One that I would add is, when was I most aware of God loving me? Least aware?
Examen, the practice of looking for God in the ordinary events of the day, is NOT:
- Listing every sin you committed
- Guilt inducing
- Navel gazing
- Seeking other people to blame for a bad day
- A to-do list maker
- Rehearsing your failures
- Long and drawn out
“I just don’t feel like God is anywhere near me lately.”
“Sometimes I wonder if God actually cares.”
“Where is God right now?”
When any of these thoughts and feelings are brought to me by a directee, I will frequently suggest they try an ancient practice called examen. Examen is the habit of noticing God in the everyday moments of life. Establishing a habit takes discipline and examen is no different.
However, before you give up and tell me that discipline just isn’t in your personality make-up, may I suggest a few simple ways to practice examen?
- Use the phone on your smart camera to snap a picture of moments of beauty, whether they are nature in bloom or people living love. Write a quick caption to remind yourself of what spoke to you in the moment. Then, once a week or so, look back through them and see all the moments that God was near.
- Every night as you are falling asleep, ask yourself the simple question, “Was there a moment when I thought about or noticed God today?” If the answer is no, ask God to give you a moment the next day. If the answer is yes, offer thanks that God came near.
- Keep a journal. This can be as simple as a notebook where you record the everyday, mundane things about your life. The ‘soul training’ moment, as James Bryan Smith calls them, comes in looking back over them to remember with gratitude.
- As I am getting ready each morning, my ‘to-do’ list is running through my head. Harness this opportunity to ask God to be revealed as you go about your day. The next morning as you review another day’s list, it is likely that moments from the day before will replay with new lenses.
The foundational truth at play in examen is that God is in every moment of every day. The air that we breathe is God, the water and food that we take in is God, the beauty of the world around us is God, the people that love are God.
Where is God for you right now?
Meaningful work is a gift from you: a chance to give of our energy and talents to bless others, a chance to provide for our families, a chance to change the world.
And rest is also a gift from you: a chance to stop and notice that the world continues to move without our effort, a chance to experience joy in recreation, a chance to savor relationship.
Today, God, we stop. We rest. We play. We create. Today, we imitate your character and rejoice in the truth that You are God and we are not.
On Monday mornings, I gather with 17 people who seek to serve God with their vocation. Together we spend an hour in prayer and in conversation about journeying with God. Honestly, this is my favorite time of the week.
Each gathering is unique and this week’s time was devoted to noticing God’s presence through our 5 senses. Every person was invited to choose an item from the table and spend about 20 minutes in silent prayer, being aware of the smell, feel, taste, look, and sound of their object. Every person’s response was different and directly tied to a current experience in their own lives and journey with God. Each response was an honest, unique answer to God’s personal call.
After our time in silence, there is always an opportunity to share what God had to say. This sharing is not so that our prayer can be critiqued but so that the group can glean wisdom together by hearing how vast our experiences of God truly are. My faith is stretched and grown by witnessing how others experience God, especially when it is different from my own experience.
This is one example of group spiritual direction: seeking God alongside others with a trusted guide.
Are you part of group that would benefit from group spiritual direction?
The video linked above is about 8 minutes long. If you don’t have that long, the first 3 minutes really answer the the question of “What is Spiritual Direction?”
If you have experienced spiritual direction, how would you define it?
These precious ones are yours, even if they feel like mine. You know their minds, their hearts, their joys, their fears. Please be near today as they take another step towards independence. Fill their very bodies with the assurance of your love. Whisper words of encouragement to counter the attacks of the evil one. Be near O God, to these ones that you love.
And please fill my momma heart with peace for their safety, joy for their growth, and hope for their futures. And when I feel short of peace, joy, and hope, please remind me that this momma heart is a reflection of your own heart of love for your beloved children.
- I need space to be completely open and honest about my own spiritual life; space where I don’t need to be impressive or perfect, space where I can ask hard questions, voice doubts, confess sin, and receive grace.
- Spiritual direction is like stopping to breathe deeply. It is yoga for my soul; stretching me, yes, but also bringing a chance to slow down and be a human being instead of a productivity cyclone.
- Every month when I sit down with my own director, she helps me notice what I have missed. It’s almost like we play “Where’s Waldo?” with God. Where has God been in my experience? Inevitably, she brings to my attention a new awareness of God at work in and around me. And that feels like a warm cup of coffee on cold day.
- When I am busy creating opportunities for prayer for so many others, it gets hard for me to pray. My director notices scripture stories and prayer practices that connect to my life right now and speaks them to me. I feel refreshed that someone is purposefully looking out for my spiritual growth and well-being. Yes, I have the responsibility to then practice them, but I am given a place to start.
- Ethically, I am required to stay in direction as long as I am serving in the ministry of direction. That is for not only my own well-being but also for the well-being of all of my directees.
What draws you toward the ministry of spiritual direction?
“Spiritual direction is a conversation between a director and someone who wants to grow in the Christian life. Convinced that the Spirit lives in us, as well as in all creation, the director and directee (the person being directed) attend to God’s many manifestations: Where is God in my desire to quit my job, or in my struggle with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? Am I being called to take a more courageous stand on justice issues? What is the meaning of this darkness I encounter in my prayer? “My director is so good at listening deeply, helping me to express what’s trying to hide,” said one ministry student. “I’m better now at allowing my life to unfold in God’s time.”
The term direction suggests that one person tells another what to believe or how to act, but a spiritual director helps others freely name what God is doing in their lives and shape their own response. To distinguish this kind of companionship from a more authoritarian approach, some prefer the term spiritual guide or soul friend. A young attorney highlights the difference: “My spiritual guide doesn’t operate like the directors of my firm, who always try to impose their own agendas on me. Instead, he helped me recognize how much I want to know Christ, then suggested I try the Jesus Prayer. Now I say it often, and it anchors me when life gets especially hectic.”
Spiritual direction is an honored practice whose roots lie deep in the Catholic tradition. Scholars usually trace its beginnings to the fourth-century desert fathers and mothers. In the rugged setting of the Egyptian desert, both new and established Christians sought guidance from those considered more experienced or holy.” –Kathleen Fischer in Is Spiritual Direction Right for You?