“Jesus then said to the crowd, ‘When you see clouds forming in the west you say at once that rain is on its way, and so the rain does come. And when the wind blows in from the south you say it is going to be hot, and it is hot. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the signs of the weather, how do you not know how to interpret the times? Why not discern for yourselves what is the right thing to do?'” – Luke 12:54-57
The founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola (b. 1491), developed a spiritual exercise designed to help Christian disciples to interpret the times, to discern the will of God in one’s daily life. It is known as the Daily Examen.
Traditionally, it is practiced in the latter hours of the day, a gleaning of insight and wisdom that the Lord have placed in your day’s journey, a time to better prepare for the next day’s journey through the experience gained in the present day’s journey. The Daily Examen involve five steps … steps that at first are done with slow deliberation, but with practice, eventually become something done with readily with ease.
The five steps are followed in this order.
First, take time to quiet one’s soul, becoming keenly aware of God’s Presence.
Second, review what took place in your day, both that which took place within yourself and that which took place around you – and do so with an intentional spirit of thanksgiving.
Third, take special notice of the feelings you experienced with each occasion – anger, joy, fear, relief, anxiety, suspicion, tranquility, agitation …
Fourth, then choose ONE feature of the day, return to that moment, then with the remembrance of that moment vivid in your mind, consider it long and thoughtfully during a time of quiet prayer.
Fifth, discern what might be the wisdom or insight God would have you gain from that one particular moment; then prayerfully bring that step of maturity into the preparation for your coming day.
I know it all seems quite laborious and structured to begin with … but with a few days’ practice, you will soon look forward to this daily counseling session with the Lord. Give it a try …
The Daily Examen is a process for heightening our awareness of how the Lord is at work in our everyday experience. As Jesus asked his disciples … to slowly “consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field” that we might learn from them …so the Holy Spirit asks us to learn from a consideration of this day of life that we have lived. Consider the thoughts and feelings within your own soul … consider the sights and sounds you encountered within your day. Learn from them, for the Lord is trying to mature your soul through your experience of them.
I am now well along in my life’s journey and this I have learned. We spend far, far too much time criticizing others … and far, far too little time examining our own lives. We tend to find a false comfort in being the chronic complainer and the constant critic, when instead our maturing in the Lord comes through our own humble confession and our own ongoing transformation. We somehow fool ourselves into thinking that we can somehow change our world without first changing ourselves.
To provide a personal example … Yesterday, I got caught up in a television debate over a national issue. The people on each side of the debate were passionate and combative, well-rehearsed in the iron-clad assertions for their point of view. Back and forth, the verbal adversaries went, all fully realizing that no one involved was ever going to change or even to modify their own solidified perspective. After an hour of exposing myself to this venom, I found my anger rising, while within me, my anxiety brewing. In time, my stomach was churning and my heartbeat was quickening and my head was aching. By the end of the hour, I was furious, flustered, even wounded in an odd masochistic kind of way.
Last night in my Daily Examen, the Lord and I prayed over that moment. At one point, I thought I heard the Lord quite soberly ask of me, “Now, my brother, was there anything gained by that hour you spent? Has your soul changed for the better by becoming emotionally battered in that hour of verbal warfare? Has the world changed for the better because of that hour spent in the midst of the heated exchange by those talking heads? Has anything been gained, anything at all? Or, has something been damaged, diminished or even lost?”
So I considered the “signs of the times” in this particular moment in the history of my living … and I sense the Lord was teaching me this … “Do not fill your soul with the anger of others, rather fill your world with the grace that you have received. Turn off the talking heads…you’ve heard it all many times before … and instead, use the precious time and the valuable soul-energy to share some divine grace with that soul next door and to provide a meal with that hungry soul down the way. The world has more anger than it needs, as well as anxiety by the truckloads … but simple acts of personally administered grace? … these acts of simple grace, the world is greatly in need of such moments.”
Reading the signs of the times has less to do with reading the climate of international politics .. and more to do with the dealing with weather taking place within my own soul and along my journey’s path.
Brother Andrew was out placing grass plugs in a bare section of the Cloister lawn. I thought, “The plugs look so small and the lawn looks so big.” At a certain point, Brother Andrew gave me a reassuring word …”Brother Anthony, one day these clumps of grass will join hands and become a lawn.” I suppose something similar might be said about our individual acts of grace and the coming kingdom of God … “one day these clumps of grace will join hands and become the beautiful realm of God.”
Brother Anthony of the Cross