Examen of consciousness
This is a daily exercise of discernment in a person's life. In discernment the prime concern is not with the morality of good and bad actions; but rather the way teh Lord is affecting or moving us (often quite spontaneously) deep in our affective consciousness. What is happening in our consciousness is prior and more important than our actions which can be delineated as juridically good or evil.
The examen is, then, a daily renewal and growth in our Christian identity - this unique flesh-spirit person being loved by God and called by Him. It is a time of prayer that can help our awareness of God at work in the details of our daily life and prepare us to cooperate and respond to His active presence.
1. Prayer for enlightenment
This whole exercise is a matter of a Spirit-guided insight into God's work and action in our lives. It is, therefore, the result of God's enlightenment, not so much our own analysis of the day. We ask to be helped to see ourselves a bit more as He sees Himself, to see and recognize what He is doing in us, as a first step towards our responding to Him in love.
2. Reflective Thanksgiving
We begin by looking over the day and asking to see where we need to be thankful. We should not choose what we think we should be thankful for, rather see what emerges, what we notice, how we feel towards that ? Do we see the giftedness of our life? Do we sense our poverty? We should allow gratitude to take over us and express it to God our Father, Son, and Spirit dwelling in us.
3. Practical Survey
Again we look over the events of the day. This time we ask the Lord to show us where He has been present in our lives, either in us or others, and what He has been asking of us. The operative questions are: What has happened in us? How has the Lord been working in us? What has He been asking of us? (We consider our actions only secondarily to this).
We look over our interior moods, feelings, urges, movements and see what stands out, even slightly. We look for things as joy, pain, turmoil, increase (or decrease) of love, anger, harmony, anxiety, freedom, enslavement, presence of God, isolation, peace etc. Obviously this presumes that we have become sensitive to our interior moods, feelings, and slightest urgings, and that we are not frightened by them but have learned to take them seriously. It is here, in the depths of our affectivity - so spontaneous, strong and shadowy at times, - that God moves us and deals with us most intimately.
In what general direction do we think we are being drawn by God? How have we been responding to these experiences that draw us towards the Lord and invite us to be more like Him?
More particularly, what attitudes are manifest in those experiences? Let us remember that our experiences help us to discover the underlying attitudes, from which our actions and choices flow. Is there any one place in our heart or any attitude that the Lord is calling for conversion? Any one area we are being asked to focus our attention on? This is where our energy needs to focus on instead of the many other places we think are important.
We can use a general four-step process:
a. What has happened in me
What feelings, moods and urges have arisen in me?
b. What was the occasion of these
Objectively( event, situation, word, happening....) and subjectively (my reactions, my thoughts, responses to an objective situation)
c. Why those feelings
I question my reactions: is there a psychological reason, or any other reason that I am aware of?
d. What is the spiritual meaning of it all
What is the direction of God's call? What is the Lord asking from me? What is He trying to reveal to me?
Secondarily, our concern is with our actions insofar as they were (or not) responses to His calling. Often our activity becomes primary to us and all sense of response in our activity is lost.
Rather than a practical "programmed" approach to perfection, this examen is meant to be a reverently honest personal meeting with the Lord in our hearts.
4. Sorrow, Forgiveness and Gratitude
We seek forgiveness from the Lord for the moments we did not respond to His love because of our lack of honesty and courage. We should not be afraid to ask for the gift of and ever deepening sorrow for not cooperating with Him, who loves us. This contrition or sorrow is not a shame or depression of our weakness but a faith experience as we grow in our realization of our Father's awesome desire that we love him with every ounce of our being.
5. Hopeful attitude for the future
There is nothing that can be done without God's loving assistance and guidance. So, we ask for a great desire to face the future with renewed vision and sensitivity. We pray for the grace not only to recognize even more subtle ways in which the Lord will call us in the existential situation of our future, but also to respond to His calls with more faith, deeper humility and greater courage. At this moment, we may feel also the need to ask for some particular need for the coming day.
We conclude the exercise with the Lord's Prayer.
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