You show that you are a letter from Christ,…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2Cor. 3:3
In the first week of the Ignatian Exercises we are invited to reflect on the story of our lives, asking God to help us recognize signs of His presence with us through times of consolation as well as those of desolation. This exercise is sometimes called a “graced history.” It is, in a sense, an expanded version of the Awareness Examen applied not only to our day, but to our whole life.
A graced history is an opportunity to examine our lives more objectively, as narratives in which God’s grace is the principle actor. It is not so much our own story that we consider, but the story of God’s initiatives in our life. As such it provides a unique opportunity to appreciate the many ways that God has encouraged our seeking Him over the course of our lives. Listening to someone else’s “graced history” can also be a helpful exercise and I could encourage facilitators of Imago Dei groups to explore this as another resource for your time together.
Fr. John English S.J., who helped develop the idea of a graced history as part of the Spiritual Exercises offered at Loyola House asks, “if the Exercises are mainly an invitation to see ourselves as “the Beloved of God” where do we go to find evidence of that truth?” For most of us, it is through our own life story that we come to discover the experience of being loved by God. Fr. John reflects on the experience of his own graced history saying, “My life story is a unique story. And, in my unique life there is a unique expression of God’s love that I must come to more fully appreciate.”
Just as the Hebrew people were often reminded of their history in terms of the Exodus, so we come to know our own history in terms of God’s grace. John English comments,
When I interpret the events of my life from the viewpoint of God’s love I see that my life is an experience of the grace of being loved. And this applies even to the shadow side of my life. It’s not just in moments of crisis that God loves me, but God is always there, loving me with benevolence, compassion and mercy. My whole life is a graced experience in the sense that God is present with me in all of the events of my life.
We sometimes trace our life story according to our work history, our health history, our relationship history, or our geographic history. So can we also consider the history of different aspects of our relationship with God. Fr. John expands on this saying,
I can, for instance, go through my life considering all the moments of consolation in which I have recognized God’s grace. I can do the same thing with respect to my times of desolation. I can also recall the times when I have not responded to the love of God, as well as those hope-filled moments in my life when I remember how light came out of darkness.
The story of God’s ways with us can also be traced through our sin history, through the history of opportunities we’ve been given, of ways that God has protected us, or used the relationships of our lives to lead us.
Consider exploring such a prayer on your own, or have someone share the observations of their graced history with your group. For those who might benefit from a more guided prayer format, Fr. Savio Rodrigues SJ offers these instructions for considering the various aspects of our graced history.
A Meditation on Your Graced History
- I seek the grace to be present to my life story as it is lovingly revealed to me by God, and I pray that I may respond generously to God’s love.
- I consider my life story in terms of grace-filled moments, looking perhaps at: relatives, friends, incidents of childhood, school, church, health, positions I have held, helps given or received.
- I look for times when I have specifically experienced the presence of God.
- I contemplate these times, re-living the event by seeing the persons, hearing the words, observing the actions and remembering my responses.
- I regard the events of my history as I would sacred Scripture, as a Word spoken by God into my life. How has God blessed me through this Word? How has God humbled me? How has God encouraged me?
- I discuss these events with God and seek a deeper appreciation of their meaning.
- Using any of these moments from my history, I take time in prayer to deeply abide with them, knowing that God has used such moments to form part of the foundation of my being, and of my growing relationship to Him.