Monday, February 5, 2018

a life examined

For a long time I've had some inkling of the value of the examen prayer. Maybe going to confession on a regular basis made the need for it more obvious. Or just seeing it in the list of "musts" for a holier life. Putting it into practice has been something completely different, however.

I remember complaining to my confessor that praying the examen at night just wasn't working.  I would close my eyes to review my day, and that was that. There was no prayer happening, just sleep. His advice was to find the time of day that worked best for prayer. "When you ask God to reveal your faults to you, he's usually pretty good about that, even if it's the next morning," he said.

Last Lent - or maybe the Lent before - that morning examen was something I tried to be consistent at. It went pretty well ... Lent is a grace-filled time. I often used a journal on my iPad or my phone to journal the prayer.  It just seemed to be more secure.  I had a template that I cut and pasted so I could hit the main points - gratitude, reflection, contrition, and moving forward.  But eventually, it went by the wayside.  I had limited prayer time in the mornings and I chose to use it in other ways.

Last summer our parish was blessed with a new priest, and several of his homilies shortly after arriving focused on confession, which was a nudge to reconsider the need for that daily look back. Coincidentally at about the same time I came across an article or blog post that mentioned an Examen app! What an idea!  I came across 2 apps with promise. One by Loyala press had music and varied formats. The other, Examen Prayer,  had video explanations of the various steps and a journal. It was amazing and awesome. Until for whatever reason it just stopped working. The journal stopped saving. I uninstalled and reinstalled. Eventually for some unknown reason, it started working again. And then stopped.  Now it tells me I have to connect to wifi (which I have) and refuses to work at all. I've deleted and reinstalled.  It was really a helpful app to me when it worked, but I'm done with it. I do know that some type of journal is a must, at least for me.

Several months ago one of my friends asked a group of us if we "bullet journaled".  I'd never heard of it, and didn't pursue it any further.  Then about a month ago I came across an article entitled "WTF is a Bullet Journal.." and decided to look further.  (Be warned if you click on that link, in case the WTF is not enough of a warning...there is language in that article!)  But the information was clear and easy to understand. 

So I decided to give it a try.  I included some of the other aspects, like the year at a glance/future log and the month at a glance.  I've done a little bit of a daily list, but for purposes of this post, we'll just stick with the Examen - bullet journal style. 

I started off with Gratitude.  I made this page back & front of a single sheet.  By each date, I can list particular things that I am grateful for on that particular day.  Easy enough. 

The next page asks for a specific grace or favor.  God, grant me the grace to see as you see.  God, help me to see what you want me to see.  Grant me the grace to appreciate all life, to know that you are always with me, to desire mercy for all people, to be as patient with other people as you are with me, etc.  Sometimes that request comes from something else I've heard that day, other times it seems repetitious.   Again, the front and back of a page should be plenty for a month.

Then comes the meat and potatoes of the examen...a walk with the Lord through your day.  I can't bullet journal this, so I saved several blank pages.  This is where you lay out the good, the bad, and the ugly of the day.  When you were walking towards God and when you were headed in the other direction. Things that need more thought. Things you might have done differently. Things that worked well. Things that have made you nearly lose your mind! I think I talk with God as I write. Sometimes things I haven't thought of come to mind as I write. Or you might jot down what you want and then go back and talk it over with the Lord. 

The next page, which should be OK on a front and a back, is where you ask forgiveness for x, y, and z.  Sometimes I've had a day that's gone pretty well... no bodies on the floor of my classroom at the end of the day, no cursing at the idiots on the road, etc.  On those days, without specific items to list,  I just ask for forgiveness for whatever hurts I may have caused or good that I failed to do.  The beauty of this is that when it's time to go to confession, it's all right here!  Rip the page out, underline, highlight, look for patterns, whatever. 

Quick side story:  I aim for confession about once a month. This past Saturday, I was at a women's day of reflection at my parish that included the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I had been to confession just a couple of weeks earlier, so I had zero intention of going on Saturday.  Until (a) we walked into church and our priest was standing there handing out Examination of Conscience pamphlets and (b) I opened up my journal and the past 2 weeks were there in black and white.  Even just a thing or two every day adds up! 

And finally to wrap it all up, is a statement, a resolution, of something that you will do tomorrow.  Just one thing.  And ideally, the following day's examen should include something of how you did with the resolution. 

So there's what works for me right now.  Oh, and I set a timer on my phone every night to tell me it's time to do this.  Otherwise, I conveniently forget or put it off until I'm falling asleep instead of praying. Your mileage, of course, may vary!