One of the glories of the Christian faith is that our awareness of God’s love and forgiveness means that we can look at ourselves honestly – seeing the gifts that God has given us and knowing that when we find things that need mending, we can bring them to the God who forgives us, heals us, and sustains us on new paths.
In this section, we take time to know ourselves – the way we feel and think, the gifts of expertise and experience that we have, the reality of our lifestyle impacts, and the choices behind them – so that we can offer our whole selves to God for transformation.
The Ignatian tradition of spirituality makes use of something called the ‘Examen’ – a way of reflecting on daily life to see where one has encountered God and to gain a sense of God’s direction. It is a daily practice with five basic steps (summary taken from the Ignatian spirituality website)
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
The first two steps on the Journey of Hope and Love reflect the first two steps of the Examen. Now we come to paying attention to our emotions … the way we think … and what we are actually doing.
The process below is something that you might want to do in a single session, or to spread out over time (do try to do steps 1 and 2 together). Whatever you do, don’t rush it. These are important questions, and you need time for them.
Step 1: What gives me joy or hope? What breaks my heart?
What things about our world – creation as God’s gift and the current situation in which we find ourselves – make me rejoice or feel hopeful? What are the things that break my heart?
You might want to take the time to write down a list – with space for adding things as you continue the journey. Look at the list. What does it tell you about yourself? What is most clearly moving you? Is it the experience of beauty or destruction? A new development – positive or negative – in knowledge? Something relating to your faith? Something about other relationships?
What, when you reflect on it, have you not mentioned that you wish you had?
For some people, this may be a challenging exercise, as they are moved by what the Ecological Examen calls “the splendor and suffering” of all that is around us. Try to make sure that you find occasions for joy and hope, even if they are small ones. If you feel overwhelmed, stop, and lay that before God.
You might also find helpful the introduction to the Anvil edition on Hope – which speaks of hope being something that comes through suffering and perseverance.
At the end, lay your emotions before God as an offering of yourself, thanking God for creating and loving you and all around you, and asking for the grace to be shown how God is calling you through your emotions, experience and knowledge.
Step 2: How do I feel God calling me through both joy/hope and grief?
What do I feel God saying to me as I lay my emotions out in prayer? When do I feel drawn closer to God? When do I feel a sense of distance?