The Yearly Examen
During a recent stop at a coffee shop I decided to reflect on the passing year and the year to come. There were some important milestones this year, our oldest entering kindergarten, our third child being born, surviving the first year in a solo pastorate. There were also some difficult times, our oldest entering kindergarten, our third child being born, entering the second year in a solo pastorate . . . I'm sure by now you get my drift, many of the things we could celebrate can also be looked at as difficult and challenging circumstances.
This is the time of the year when many people make new year "resolutions." These are ways in which one is determined to change something, do something, or take on something that was neglected in the previous year. Getting out of debt, loosing weight, & spending more time with family are some of the most common resolutions for the new year.
The problem with resolutions is that they are easily forgotten. Most people could probably not name what their "resolutions" where by the end of January. Others try really hard but quickly get discouraged when the debt does not go down, the weight is not taken off, or the demands of work continually interfere with family.
I believe that the reason why most of us are not successful in keeping these "resolutions" is that we have not properly reflected on why we have not been successful at these important things in the past. In other words, we have not learned from past mistakes, we have not become good students of our own story.
In the Christian tradition we have a name for this process of reflection that leads to real change, it's called repentance. In repentance we acknowledge our own wrong doing, the ways that we have ignored the way, while promising to turn around and begin to walk towards God once more. This new beginning is essential to our Christian faith and is one that we return to time and time again. The catalyst of repentance is the awareness of God's presence in our lives, this awareness needs to be fostered by practices that open our souls to God's gracious action.
There is a practice in Ignatian spirituality called the daily examen. The examen is a tool for self reflection at the end of the day. This practice forces us to pay attention to God's presence in our day and awakens our spirit to our actions throughout the day. The examen helps us to let go, find forgiveness, and look towards a new day, and a new way.
I've decided that this year, before making any "resolutions," I would make a yearly examen. I'll take inventory of God's presence in me throughout the year and the ways in which I lived out of that presence. I will also take note of the times when I did not live out of God's presence, choosing instead my own way.
As I began writing in my journal about these things I realized how many times I called out for God in this closing year. I could name them, one by one, I could go back in my journal and see the prayers and sense my own need once again. I could also remember the many times that I did not even think about, worry about, or call on God.
In the end, the practice of a yearly examen opened the door to God's invitation in my life for the new year. The invitation, become a more faithful disciple, was simple - the living it out extremely difficult! This is not just another resolution but a commitment to more faithfully align all of my life to God's vision of justice, peace, & love for all of creation.
Have a Blessed New Year!