On The Importance Of A Daily Examen

Ms. Tanya, the Principal's secretary at the Catholic high school where I worked after I graduated from college, was the quintessential southern woman.  She wore floral pedal pushers with matching button down blouses and cardigan sets, complete with open toed high heeled sandals.  I never saw her without a face full of make up and her rouge always matched her colored lips.  She spoke with a delicious southern drawl that melted away a new person's nerves just like butter melts on toast.

"How's your momma and them?" she'd ask me most Monday mornings and we'd chat about when my parents were coming to visit next and how much I missed them.

As a twenty-two year old teacher and full-time graduate student, my job left me in charge of a bunch of teenagers, but Ms. Tanya knew I was just a kid myself.  She tried to help me when she could by doing small little things for me, like making photocopies or setting up a meeting so I could talk to the principal about discipline problems with my ninth grade pups.  When 9/11 happened, she walked across campus to tell me in person that my dad was not working at the Pentagon when the plane flew into it and that he was OK.

So when I received a phone call one morning that Ms. Tanya's twenty-something year old son had been killed on a motorcycle, I cried for her. 

Ms. Tanya, obviously, was devastated.

She was gone from school for several weeks after the funeral, but she eventually found her way back to her desk outside the Principal's office. 

One day, a few months after the accident, I went into her office and noticed her typing on the computer's keyboard while tears rolled down her cheeks and into her lap.  I walked over to her desk and grabbed her hand, not knowing what to say. 

She looked up at me from where she was sitting and she said,

"Do you know people come in here all day long and they see me sitting here crying, but they don't say anything?  Do you know they just ask me to make photocopies?"

I couldn't imagine handing a crying Ms. Tanya, whose son just died, a piece of paper and saying,

"Can you make me 50 of these, please?"

But I believed it happened.

I've been reading a lot about St. Ignatius of Loyola and one of the things I've discovered is his practice of the Daily Examen, a prayerful recollection of the events of the day in order to determine God's presence and direction for our life.  It's looking for the hand of God everywhere we go and in everything we do.  Father James Martin, S.J., says "It's a way of reviewing what made you happy, stressed, confused.  It's an opportunity to review the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, and conversations of the day or thoughts, words, and deeds as Ignatius would say.  Each moment offers a window into where God has been."

It's a simple prayer but the effect on a person's daily life is revolutionary, especially if you consider the fact most Americans don't make time to reflect on anything.  We are so busy with work and family and our technological gadgets, we never carve out time for silence.  We flit from task to task all day long:

we wake,

exercise,

do breakfast,

rush to get ready,

get the kids off to school,

hurry to work,

spend all day spinning our wheels,

only to come home to a house full of chores and responsibilities.

Once we've worked ourselves into sheer exhaustion, we then turn on the television or the computer and engage in an evening of mindlessness in order to "recharge" (which, for some strange reason we can never quite figure out, never actually restores us). 

In a day overflowing with activity, we never stop what we are DOING to take a few minutes to JUST BE.  There is always much noise and much activity, without any quiet. 

It's a problem.

It's no wonder Ms. Tanya's colleagues couldn't be bothered to ask her how she was doing after her son's death.

Most of them probably weren't stopping to ask themselves how they were doing!

The majority of us just do what we need to do to get through the day--no more, no less.  If we are are so disconnected from our spiritual and emotional selves, how could we possibly be tuned in to the spiritual and emotional dimensions of someone else?

But as Christians, don't we have a responsibility to walk with others in their pain, to help them when they are in need? 

I don't want to be like the rich man who who stepped over the starving and sick Lazarus, who lay outlside his gate waiting for a helping hand.  I don't want my own preoccupation with my life or my suffering to keep me from serving those hurting souls I encounter (souls who may be living under the same roof as me).

When I walk into an office and observe someone crying, I want to be able to help them in some small way, even if it's simply holding their hand.

But this isn't possible without a daily moment of reflection--a review of where I'm succeeding and where I'm failing in my interactions with others.

Father James Martin, S.J. writes in his book,

The Jesuit Guide To Almost Everything:  A Spirituality For Real Life:

"Deed calls to deep," says Psalm 42.  But what if you can't hear the deep?
Solitude and silence also enable us to connect on a deeper level with others, for we are to put in touch with the deepest part of ourselves--God.  And in coming to know God, we are better able to find God in others and are freed of our loneliness."

Without the silence and the intentional reflection or as St. Ignatius would say, without the Daily Examen, I walk right over the wounded. 

But a Saint would never walk over the wounded.

A Saint would never let Ms. Tanya cry at her computer alone just like a Saint wouldn't step over Lazarus's sore infested body.

A Saint would do all he could to tend to both these hurting souls.

After, of course, he'd done his Examen.

“Lord, teach me to be generous;
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To toil, and not to seek for rest;
To labor, and not to ask for reward -
except to know that I am doing your will.” 

                              --Ignatius of Loyola