Have you ever had a day where you lie down in bed at the end of it and you can hardly remember what you did that morning? You’ve been on the go for such a long time that you stopped even really noticing what was happening? You just do one thing after another in order to get it done until you finally crash?
Consider how we interact with others and make decisions. Often, life comes at us too quickly to spend prayerful time in discernment for every conversation, reaction, and decision we must make. Because of this, we have to rely on our gut in how we respond. Our gut, though, is something that we have some control over. We can develop our “gut” by getting in the habit of making good decisions and acting out of love. This means that we can, over time, become a person who generally responds out of love or who generally responds out of other motives (anger, fear, selfishness, etc.).
Shaping ourselves into the person who we want to be – a person who notices God’s presence in our lives and responds out of love – takes persistent work and attention. We seek to have discerning hearts, hearts that readily notice the things that are God’s activity or the things that push us away from God. In order to make our hearts increasingly receptive, we work on cultivating receptive and attentive hearts.
The aim for this meeting is threefold:
- To recognize that we have the ability to shape the kind of person we are.
- To explore how that process of cultivating that disposition requires patience, work, diligence, attention, etc. (Use the activity in the focus exercise with plants to initiate conversation about this).
- To introduce how the Examen can be a useful tool in that process.
The Examen helps us as we seek to make our hearts and selves more receptive to the movements of the Spirit. Dennis Hamm, S.J. has a nice summary of the benefits of regularly praying the Examen, available online. St. Ignatius adamantly encouraged Jesuit companions that, if they could only do one prayer each day, it should be the Examen. It can be a good habit for us as well.
Later, meeting 3.02 uses the Examen as well, exploring how it roots our lives in gratitude and the fruits that bears in our spiritual caminos.
- A live plant, or small plants for everyone in your group. Even consider giving everyone in the group a packet of seeds and bring small pots with potting soil (but be mindful of cleaning up afterward).
- Handouts of the Examen
Ask for the grace of perception, to see clearly the things that may normally remain hidden and receive them in gratitude.
What is one thing that surprised you today: something out of the ordinary, or something you noticed for the first time?
We will explore the idea of “cultivation” in general to give us insight into the process of cultivating a discerning heart. Then, we will share in a guided Examen as a tool to help us in our cultivation. Begin with this activity:
- Bring a live potted plant of some kind to the meeting. You may choose to bring a small one for each member of your group. Lead the group in a discussion of how this plant came to be. What did it need to grow? Light? Water? Nutrients? What would happen if those things were no longer provided to the plant? Explore the idea of a farm and a farmer who cultivates the land. What does that entail? What must the farmer do to make sure the land can bear fruit? What kind of tools does the farmer use? What is the difference between farmland and wild land?
Allow some time for discussion:
- How do we see our own spirituality in the plant or the land?
- If you are the farmer and your faith is the plant, how are you tending to it? What shape is it in?
- How is your spirituality thriving? How is it struggling?
Introduce your group to the Examen prayer and how it can help us as we continue to cultivate a sense of discernment in our own hearts. Invite your community to enter into the Examen prayer as you read it. (Use this handout if you like.)
- How did it feel to review your day in this prayerful way?
- What did you notice?
- What did you feel called to?
- How do you think this could work as a tool for cultivating a growth in your spiritual life?
- What has struck you as you have been listening to others share? Do you notice any patterns or similarities?
- How have you been feeling throughout the meeting? Comfortable? Anxious? Curious?
- Is there anything you would like to share after listening to another person share?
- What is remaining with you? What do you hope to return to in prayer at another point in the week?
Can our CLC commit to praying the Examen once a day this week? Will we undertake the “Awareness Examen Challenge?!” Some ways we could do this include:
- One person can volunteer to text message everyone a reminder each night.
- The group can pick a time that they will pray it so they can be in it together.
- Pray-as-you-go.org has an mp3 guided Examen called “Review of the day” which can be downloaded and played on a computer or mp3 player.
- The group could e-mail or text message each other each day sharing one grace that they experienced in the Examen (or one struggle with it).
- You can use your plant as a reminder to do the Examen, and tend to it each time you tend to your own spirit. See how it grows!
Make time at the next CLC meeting to share with one another about the experience of praying the Examen for a week. What was difficult? What were the fruits?
Return to the image of the plant, using that image as inspiration for the prayer.
“We recognize particularly the necessity of prayer and discernment, personal and communal, of the daily examination of consciousness and of spiritual guidance as important means for seeking and finding God in all things.” (CLC-USA General Principles #5)
“In order that we might grow as reflective people, we will find it helpful to set aside a brief time about midway in the day and again at the end of the day before retiring in a formal review of how we have spent the day. Within the retreat, this examination of conscience is not so much aimed at reviewing the areas of sinfulness, but rather at the fulfillment of all those aids of position, recollection, environment, and so on, which are meant to integrate my day, more wholly fixing it on God. Since the weeks as well as individual days within the week may make very different demands for such an integration, we will find this style of particular examination especially helpful in maintaining the spirit proper to the movement of the retreat.” (Spiritual Exercises )
“Then the Lord said, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.’ A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord – but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire – but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.” 1 Kings 19:11-12