A lenten oasis


5 Mar 2015

It’s in the middle of the day and in the evening too that we long to simply sit at the oases of our lives. These cool pools of water help us prepare for the onward journey as we take a few moments to relax, breathe and receive. Thankfully, Jesus himself is living water (John 4) and so we know that those times of stopping by the true oases are times when He offers us sustenance and hope.

This being the case, as pilgrims we still need inner compass points to help us discern the difference between being drawn to cool sustaining oases and being driven to entertaining illusory ones. We need to discern between those places in our lives that fill us with peace and those which drain us of life.

One daily practice which can help us with this, and which we can include in our Lenten observance, is the awareness examen. An ancient Christian prayer, it can be a place of life-giving water, where we sit quietly in the presence of Jesus and recollect the events of our day. There are five short steps to this prayer:

1) Stop. I find a comfortable place where I will not be disturbed. I begin to rest in God’s presence. I pray for the grace of gratitude to God for gifts received during the day.
2) To ask the Holy Spirit for help and light in guiding this awareness examen.
3) I remember all that has happened during my day: the relationships, the interactions, the hopes, delights, pains and joys I experienced. I may have this happen as a video playing in my mind or in-stead like a random series of images and sounds – either is fine. I stay awhile with what moves in my heart.
4) I ponder what arises from this time of prayer, savouring the various fruits. What am I being drawn to consider? I talk with God about this.
5) I look forward to tomorrow with hope. Having seen how God has been with me today, I consider how God will be with me tomorrow. Glory be…

Saint Ignatius Loyola recommended his Jesuit and lay friends practice this prayer twice in the day: at noon and before going to sleep. If we think about noon it’s a time when the day is in full swing, much having happened, yet there is still the rest of the day to offer to God. If we think about the purpose of sleep it is to help us to rest, recover, and prepare for a fresh day. In deciding whether the awareness examen is for me, it may help to consider what I am doing in my life to help me rest at the wellspring of God’s presence, to receive the fresh water of His company, and the consolation of seeing the movement of the Holy Spirit in every experience of my day.

As we practice the awareness examen more and more, we are invited to grow in gratitude for life’s gifts, and to cooperate with God in choosing the life that God desires for us: life to the full. (John 10:10). While starting a new spiritual practice means a fresh start, this is rarely easy. Happily God is patient with us, infinite in understanding, and like a simple camel, faithful to the last.

May our Lenten walk through the desert be one where we know the accompaniment of God’s goodness and the cool breeze over the oasis waters. As we rest under trees and the bright desert stars, the awareness examen may help us enjoy God’s loving presence, with us now and always.

James O'Brien is an Editorial Assistant with Jesuit Communications.
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