Monday, March 3, 2014

This Lent...Go to the Movies with the Daily Examen

Louisa May Alcott once said, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” As we near the beginning of Lent, this is a great time to discover (or rediscover) the practice of the Daily Examen. This age-old spiritual practice can help us learn how to "sail the ship" of our spiritual life with God at the helm. 

If you are not familiar with the Examen; it is the practice of reviewing one’s day in the light of God’s love and mercy. We do this in order to give God praise and gratitude, identify areas in which we need his help, and arm ourselves with his grace for the future.

You may have tried the Examen and then stopped doing it. This happened to me because I was being so self focused that the Examen became a time to beat myself up for the many ways I would fail in loving each day.

I still try to make the Examen daily but my prayer in this area is so diffuse and unfocused that I often feel like I am wasting my time. One reason for my struggles is that I can never remember the steps.

To remedy this problem, I recently decided to match each step of the Examen with a scene from a movie to help me remember.* I hope it helps you and if it does, you may consider joining me in trying out, (or reinvigorating), this spiritual practice this Lent.

So, grab some popcorn and come with me to the movies!

Be forewarned this movie experience is rated PG-13 due to some language and contains some spoilers to a couple movies you should have seen by now...

Step 1

Inspiration: Become aware of God’s presence, ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.


In this ending scene from The Truman Show, Truman realizes that his whole life has been choreographed and he has never seen the real world. He converses with the director of the show in a conversation that mirrors the dialogue we often have in our heads with ourselves. The Examen requires that we come out of our own self-constructed realities and enter into the real world, not under the watchful critical eye of the enemy, but under the loving eyes of God. So, in this first step, we become aware of God and ask for his guidance.

Step 2

Gratitude: Look concretely at your day and see how God was loving you.

This scene in Ben-Hur shows him searching desperately for water. For me, this scene is a metaphorical representation of the worst of days when we feel like we can’t get up, and everything is beating us down. It does not require serious drama or tragedy to have one of these days. These can be normal, otherwise ho-hum days. But even in the midst of feeling like this, perhaps even more so, Jesus gives us water to drink. For this step, we can ask ourselves the question, “Where has Jesus given me the water of his truth and his love today?”

Step 3

Remember: Review day chronologically

This scene from Invictus shows God inviting a man to forgiveness through the words of Nelson Mandela. For this step in the Examen, we mentally go through our day from morning to evening. We remember the times when God was speaking to us through the events of our day, and how we responded. Sometimes an obvious moment in the day will jump out at us and we will sit with it, asking God to help us see how he was speaking through another person or an event. 

Step 4

Hug: Experience contrition and God’s merciful embrace

 In this scene from Les Miserables, we see Jean Valjean experience the mercy of God in the actions of the Monsignor. In this step of the Examen, like Jean Valjean, we experience the mercy of God for the ways in which we did not respond well throughout the day. But it is important to note that the focus should be on God’s love for us, not ourselves or our failings. This is important because it is God’s love that will heal and fortify us for the future.

Step 5

Resolve: Look toward tomorrow.

Many of our days are like the day Bill Murray has in the movie Groundhog Day. We repeat certain actions over and over again and often we behave in exactly the same way, even though we know it is self-defeating or wrong. This step in the Examen helps us to break the “Groundhog Day cycle" where we act in the same way over and over. It helps us to ask God for the grace to live out of his love for us rather than out of our habits of sin. In this step, we look toward tomorrow, fortified by the grace God has given us through his love and mercy, and ask for his help to become a better person. 

_ _ _

I hope you enjoyed this short movie interlude and that this helps you to remember the steps of the Examen.

Try it out this Lent and see where it takes you!

*Note – There are various version of the Examen steps out there; this is my personalized version of the steps that I find most helpful.


Anonymous said...

What a fun creative way to learn about the examen. Thanks Sr. Theresa!

Anonymous said...

God bless you sister! Thank you for this!