It is one of the two most potent spiritual disciplines that I know anything about. When people come to me for help with their spiritual lives, I invariably introduce them to the spiritual disciplines of Lectio Divina and the Examen, and then I encourage them to find way of weaving both of these practices appropriately into their lives.
In the spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) we learn how to listen to God speaking to us personally and directly through the pages of Scripture, and in the spiritual discipline of the Examen we learn how to find God in the tangled circumstances of our lives. Both of these spiritual disciplines are best undertaken daily; Lectio in the morning to begin the day so that you have a Word from God to take with you, and the Examen at night before going to bed so that you can see where God has been and what God has been doing. But they also have a place as special practices on important days like birthdays, anniversaries and other life cycle moments when there are life transitions underway.
For several years now I have tried to take some time at the transition of the years, when I am putting away one calendar and opening up a new one, to leaf through the pages of the old one with the Examen framework installed in my head and heart so that I can consolidate the learnings from my journey of faith over the past 12 months, and to open myself up more consciously and deliberately to where God may be taking me in the next 12.
The structure of the Examen is not complicated –
1. The first step is Gratitude – You begin by recalling God’s promises, presence and provision for you, and you tell God “thank-you” for being in your life.
2. The second step is a Petition for help from the Holy Spirit – In the spirit of Psalm 139, you ask God to search you and know you. In recovery programs this is known as “the searching moral inventory,” a ruthless and relentless process of self-examination. In the Examen you do this with God guiding the process. You ask God to open your eyes to be able to see more clearly who you really are and what you are doing, to open your mind to be able to understand more deeply how and where you are actively cooperating with – and where you are openly resisting – what it is that God is doing in you and with you, and to open your heart to be able to be increasingly receptive to the hard and sometimes painful work of transformation into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior.
3. The third strep is a Review of your life guided by the Holy Spirit – This is a simple process of going back through the day (or the year if this is an annual Examen) playing a kind of “hide and seek” game with God. The purpose of this step is not just to see what happened to you that day, but to discern where God was in its moments, events and activities.
4. The fifth step is Forgiveness – Where you have not kept faith with God, yourself and others, you repent, confess and receive the forgiveness that the Gospel offers (I John 1:9-2:2). This is not about shame and guilt, but about grace and growth.
5. The fifth step is Renewal – This is when you turn from the past to the future, from what has happened to what is coming next. You ask God to be your companion and guide in the coming day, and to help you remain aware and responsive to where God is taking you and with what God is doing in you and with you.
The steps of this spiritual discipline that are so helpful in opening us up to the presence and activity of God in our daily lives can serve the same function at the beginning of the New Year when we are instinctively conducting life reviews and making resolutions for personal growth and change.
The late Anthony de Mello, in one of his incredibly creative and constructive spiritual exercises, provided a framework for this kind of annual Examen that I have used with great benefit and insight over the past few years on or around New Year’s Day. And so I would encourage you to find a quiet place this week and to take some time to work through the questions of his “Testament” as a useful way of determining the longitude and latitude of your soul at this moment in your life. DBS+
A Testament ~ Anthony de Mello SJ
I imagine that today I am to die. I ask for time to be alone and write down for my friends a sort of testament. The following points could serve as chapter titles.
1. These things I have loved in life:
Things I tasted,
2. These experiences I have cherished:
3. These ideas have brought me liberation:
4. These beliefs I have outgrown:
5. These convictions I have lived by:
6. These are things I have lived for:
7. These insights I have gained in the school of life:
Insights into God,
8. These risks I took, these dangers I courted:
9. These sufferings have seasoned me:
10. These lessons life has taught me:
11. These influences have shaped my life (persons, occupations, books, events):
12. These scripture texts have lit my path:
13. These things I regret about my life:
14. These are my life’s achievements:
15. These people are enshrined within my heart:
16. These are my unfulfilled desires:
I choose an ending for this document:
a poem– my own or someone else’s;
or a prayer;
a sketch or a picture from a magazine;
a scripture text;
or anything that I judge would be an apt conclusion to my testament.
(Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits 18-19)