Questions for reflection are used in a number of different ways for spiritual practice.
Quakers use the practice of “queries,” which are open-ended, well-crafted questions often directed towards the community to help shape the life of that community.
Another practice of asking questions within a spiritual tradition is the Ignatian Examen that is still in use by Jesuits and others drawn to this practice.
Here is a short version I shared on Twitter:
- What I did today
- Where Grace Showed Up For Me
- What Got in the way?
- Where there any signs of my day going to shit that I could recognize?
- What is my work for tomorrow?
A Brief Summary of the Ignatian Examen
There has been much written about these practices but there is a good overview on Wikipedia for starters.
This is a version of the exercises that I learned from my spiritual director who is a trained Jesuit, summarized here. This is a blend of my own words and words taken from a document he shared with me.
The two main goals of these exercises was to:
- Find God in all things
- Constantly work to gain freedom to cooperate with God’s will
Here are The Steps for Preparation and the Exercises:
Find a comfortable place to sit, set the environment with a candle, incense, instrumental music. Whatever helps you to focus and get into a state of prayer. Feel God’s presence and know his deep love for you, but try not to fall asleep.
Recall you are in the presence of God – “In [God] we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).
Look at your day with gratitude and give thanks for all of these things – “And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord….The Almighty One has done great things for me.” (Lk 1:46, 49)
After a few moments, begin to give thanks to God for the gifts of this day. Special pleasures will spring to mind: a good night’s sleep, the smell of the morning coffee, the laugh of a child. As you move in gratitude through the details of your day, remember that every single event has been God’s gift. The morning sun, the singing of the birds, perhaps a smile from the mail carrier or the kindness of a friend all point to God’s love for you, personally.
After you review the special gifts of God this day, recall the gifts of your own creation. The special and perfect way God has made you brings God’s grace to others. As you have participated in the body of Christ this day you have brought your own strengths—your sense of humor, your ability to cook, your strong hands and arms, your words of encouragement, your patience—to others, and all supported by your family and friends.
Ask help from the Holy Spirit “When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth.” (Jn 16:13)
Take this time to reflect on how you have responded to God’s gifts and love throughout the day. Where there places where you felt most connected and alive? Were there places where you did not follow through in responding to the grace that arose for you? This is an opportunity to learn more about your actions and motivations.
Review your day. – “Test yourselves to see whether you are living in faith; examine yourselves. Perhaps you yourselves do not realize that Christ Jesus is in you.” (2 Cor 13:5)
Reflect and review your whole day. Take time. Notice the details. Pay attention to people and conversations. Interior feelings. Tensions.
This step is crucial to the whole process because what you are doing is beginning to pay attention to actions, attitudes, and decisions that have become habitual and automatic but are things that are keeping you from being fully tapped into grace.
You are here looking for signs of those things that cause you to act with less than perfect freedom, given the circumstances of your life. This is not psychoanalysis, but it does bring a certain amount of psychological wholeness to you as you recognize small details.
Here are questions you could use in this section:
- Ask When did I fail?
- Ask When did I love? – One or more of your actions may have been completed in near-perfect freedom.
- Pay attention to Habits and life patterns – If your daily habits are dragging down your freedom, in the Examen you will notice them very quickly.
- See both the positive and negative – These are signs of God’s grace in your life. The daily Examen will help you to become more sensitive to them.
- See other forms of God’s presence – Signs of God’s grace arise in so many ways – people, creation, nudges, other spiritual practices, and more.
Reconcile and resolve – “As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine.” (Jer 18:6) – Imagine yourself surrounding by the love of God, or in the presence of Jesus. Reflect back what you have learned, what you did and did not do throughout the day. Receive gratitude and forgiveness as necessary.
You can create variations this practice throughout the day, in the morning, or however it is best for you. The point is to be truly examining and becoming aware throughout the day where your responses are habitually and unreflected upon and where you have intention and awareness.