Shaped Through Examen by Stephanie Dehani
I am not the type to look behind. I love planning, I love figuring out the future. Give me all the lists, all the methods for productivity, all the read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans, and the systems for making next year my best year yet.
The word I had for the year 2020 was renew. I did not realize, when I decided that I wanted to unlearn and renew my spiritual life, my spiritual disciplines, that it would, in fact, become a year of reflection and release.
I have heard many share about the benefits of this spiritual or nonspiritual practice of reflection; but I, remember, don’t look behind.
I look ahead.
I hold my breath in anticipation.
So as this year unfolded, I found myself calling out to the Lord to reveal Himself to me, daily. I have not really prayed that before. I grew up evangelical, reformed, Calvinistic. The idea that Jesus speaks today was not what I believed. I mean, He speaks through his Word but speaking to us individually, no need.
Naively, I volunteered to have spiritual direction sessions done with my friend and colleague who had begun her study program. From our first meeting, I began to sense that this would change me.
From the first session, I changed. I breathed a little deeper.
Subtly, yet excitedly. Suddenly questions of Where did you see God with you? and In what ways did you experience God this week? solidified something I knew in my head but perhaps, for years, had not internalized.
God with us.
God with me.
Our practice of reflecting on these questions created a hunger in me to not only be on the lookout but to be on the look back!
I exhaled in relief.
I did not intentionally begin practicing reflection, but I could not believe how often God was revealing Himself to me, and the only way I truly realized His presence was through thinking back over the weeks leading up to my meetings with my spiritual director.
Suddenly, renewal didn’t just mean a fresh outlook, it meant a constant look back in reflection, to begin again and again and again.
Breathing in and breathing out.
The practice of St. Ignatius’ examen was still quite new to me, and I am grateful for the exploration this past year has afforded me to stretch and get to know myself, but more importantly, engage with the Christ I love on a very different level than all my decades of inductive word studies and ‘quiet times’ have done. I still love those practices, but the practice of silence and solitude, of waiting in the empty valleys for the glory of the Lord to shine into the shadows and His presence to walk me beside the waters has enriched my spiritual journey immensely. There is so much of Christ’s presence in releasing the pent-up air inside me.
I was constantly holding my breath with some of my other well-worn and regular practices and this reflection practice was teaching me to exhale with wonder.
I have not yet built a daily rhythm of reflection and examen, but weekly, I look forward to Sundays when I sit, flipping page by page through my journal where I have written a prayer, a verse of adoration, the things I am pondering daily, my done list, and other random bits of details from my week. I filter back through the week and answer some or all of the following questions, whichever feels the most pertinent to me at the time:
1.What am I especially grateful for this past week?
2. Where have I felt true joy in this week?
3. When did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, to others, to God? When did I have the least sense?
4. What troubled me?
5. What challenged me?
6. When did I give and receive the most love? When did I give and receive the least love?
7. How have I noticed God’s presence or felt an increase of faith, hope, love?
8. How did I see myself moving toward or away from God in these moments? Why?
9. In light of this reflection, what is my response to the God of my life?
10. With what spirit do I want to enter next week?
There have been times I have skipped these reflections. Sometimes they happen on a Monday rather than a Sunday, but part of the gift has been the grace to let this rhythm ebb and flow. The joy of seeing just where Christ has shown up in my ordinary life continues to pull me back, even for a moment. It gives me the breath of anticipation and the exhalation of praise.
*Photo Credit to Zack Minor from Unsplash
Stephanie Dehani lives with her Baloch husband in West Asia. She is an anthropologist and linguist working in language preservation and oral storying with minoritized language groups. Writing gives her joy and you can find her scribblings at www.stephaniedehani.com or on Instagram @stephaniedehani.