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Living the Spiritual Life

One of the most effective techniques to awaken our awareness that God’s Spirit is deeply involved in our daily lives is by practicing the Jesuits’ spiritual exercise of the Awareness Examen. It is based on the faith approach, but with its emphasis on feelings it highlights the body-person approach.

St. Ignatius of Loyola considered the Awareness Examen as perhaps the single, most important spiritual exercise after the Eucharist. The Examen focuses our attention on our lived experience, aiming at growing our sensitivity to God’s revelatory presence, self-gift, and call within each situation and experience of our daily life. The Examen is more than an examination. It is an exercise that grows our faith in God’s involvement in our lives. Above all, it is an effort to live fully the spiritual life, becoming contemplatives in action.

What the Examen is not. It is not an examination of conscience, which focuses on our sinful acts or on correction of our faults. Develop your own way to practice the Examen from these basic steps. Takes about 15 minutes. If possible, practice it daily.

1.      Thanksgiving. Begin by vowing to look upon all the events of your day compassionately (being fully present in a caring, attentive way). Focus on the video of your day, hour to hour, place to place, task to task, person to person, thanking God for the gifts of all your experiences—gifts of existence, work, relationships, food, the pleasant and the unpleasant. ALL IS GIFT, because God’s Spirit is involved. Set aside for now any unpleasantness. Just focus on heart-felt thanksgiving with the excitement of a child. Enter deeply into God’s presence in these gifts.

2.      Light. Petition the Spirit for the light to see how the Spirit is leading you and pray for understanding of all life’s events, the pleasant and the unpleasant, as God’s gifts to you and the sources of your growth. ALL IS GIFT. Acknowledge that you are powerless to understand how all is gift, and pray for the light to discern whether it is the Spirit or your wounded heart that is the source of your interior feelings, moods, impulses, desires and urges. (More on discernment to come.)

3.      Feelings. Review all the feelings that surface in the replay of your day. Your feelings toward God. Your feelings toward others, Your feelings toward yourself. Your feelings toward life. Your feelings toward creation. Which of your feelings are leading you to God and which are not? And how is God drawing you to Himself, to conversion, to growth? Your feelings, positive and negative, the painful and the pleasant, are clear signals of where the action was during your day. These interior movements are your true self, because it is at this level that you make your decisions, that you discover your real relationship with God and your true identity. You want to get beneath your overt behavior to underlying attitudes and patterns.

4.      Focusing.  Choose one of these feelings (positive or negative) and pray from it. That is, choose the remembered feeling that most caught your attention. That feeling is a sign that something important was going on. Now simply express spontaneously the prayer that surfaces as you attend to the source of the feeling—praise, petition, contrition, cry for help or healing, whatever. Let God surprise you with His response.

5.      Future. Imagine your immediate future of tasks, meetings, appointments. Visualize yourself doing well in the envisioned situations, meeting obstacles well. You may want to formulate a few strategies for particularly difficult situations. Take your feelings generated by these challenges, and turn them into prayer for help, for healing, whatever comes spontaneously. Determine to keep your spirit filled with gratitude, and to take steps to get rid of mind-sets that stand between you and your Creator.