This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
St. Ignatius of Loyola stressed the importance of taking time to review our spiritual experiences in order to more deeply relish the truth of what they are saying to us. His Spiritual Exercises, for instance, begin with a review of our whole life, examining all the events, year after year, that have shaped us to be the person we are today. Ignatius also stressed the importance of reviewing, after every prayer session, our time with God. We are to recall moments when we sensed the nearness or absence of God, and learn what we can from that particular experience of prayer.
At the end of each day Ignatius also taught his followers to practice what he called the “Awareness Examen.” The Examen is simply a matter of taking time each evening to go over your day, seeking to learn from your experiences where you should amend your ways, or what God might affirm in your day. So important was this exercise to Ignatius that he instructed his followers that, even if they were to neglect all other prayers, they should not forsake this one.
In this prayer we re-examine our day, remembering what we did, what we said, and what we felt in the many things we experienced. It is an opportunity to deepen our relationship to what we have received; to relive the high and low moments, and to learn what we can from them. By re-experiencing our day we have opportunity to objectify the things that happened to us, now removed from the confusion of the moment. At arms-length, we can better observe ourselves than when we are in the midst of the fray.
Through the Awareness Examen we appreciate more deeply the measure of a day. In all its varied experiences, this was the particular day given to us by God. We give thanks for every occasion that God has used from it to shape us. We remember the events, we remember the people, but we especially remember how we felt about what was happening. Where were the moments of joy? What were the difficult parts of our day? How did we feel at those moments? Where did we recognize signs of God’s presence? When did we feel most alone or lost? We talk with God about our experiences. From the perspective of hindsight we thank God even for the occasions that challenged us in our day. If nothing else, the Awareness Examen helps us treat each day as something precious, full of much more mystery and opportunities for growth than we realized at the time of our first living it.
Consider exploring this important prayer in the weeks ahead. Make it a special time with God. Have a cup of tea, make a hot chocolate, or pour yourself a glass of wine. Enjoy the silence as you prayerfully go over the hours of your day, from the time you awoke to now. You might be surprised at first how hard it is to remember what you did this morning, but a little practice will help you better access your short-term memory. Let your day become the subject of your prayer. Let it teach you what you did well or what you might’ve done differently. Take account of all that happened and how you experienced each event. Learn from the mistakes you made and appreciate more deeply the good moments by reliving them in gratitude for God’s grace in your day. With a growing appreciation of the worth of a day you might even find yourself looking forward to tomorrow, and to the opportunity the Awareness Examen will give you to re-live each day as you go over it again with God.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.