While on retreat I found a delightful book in the Resource Center entitled Sleeping with Bread-Holding What Gives You Life. (Dennis Linn, Stephanie Fabricant Linn,Matthew Linn). This is a very approachable book about something that has become a true part of my practice, the Examen of Consciousness, or the daily Examen. The book was intended to be a resource for families but is one of the most engaging and thoughtful books that make a practice with a slightly off-name much easier to grab onto.
The title for the book comes from recalling that during the bombing raids in World War II, many children were orphaned and left to starve. Those who were fortunate enough to be rescued and end up in refugee camps found that in spite of food and housing and care, they could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to discover they were hungry and homeless again. It was a challenge to comfort them in this insecurity, but someone came upon the idea of giving them a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. They were able to sleep believing, " I ate today and I will eat tomorrow." This simple act provided hope and healing and a sense of interior freedom.
The Examen keeps our relation with God on track in a similar way. After beginning with imagining I am in God's presence, I remember how God has loved me and what God has given me in the day. This is not just an accounting but seeing our relationship. This time allows for seeing things in our day that have made us feel blessed, the gifts in others, and a chance to reflect on moments big and small, that have been endearing, sustaining, affirming. Even the patience to act with grace in a challenging time is a moment of thanks. Always begin with thanks. "I ate today."
I also read the moments of the day in my heart.
This time also allows me to recall what has left me unsettled, disappointed, sad, unfulfilled. Were there times when the spirits that moved our decisions were perhaps less of God and more the temptation to darker places? What are these concerns for which I seek guidance or amendment? Were there things I hoped to be about that did not come to pass? What emerges? I ask for true vision.
Sometimes there are in addition to the good, there are those that are bad- places where I should seek forgiveness. I do so knowing God is more ready to forgive than I am to forgive myself. Places where I need grace to strengthen and direct. Then there are places that are ambiguous. These are places where conversation with God will be about seeking clarity.
But whatever the need, I know I have not only received my daily bread today, Jesus is with me and I am promised bread for tomorrow as a beloved child of God. This helps me look to tomorrow and contemplate where I will most need to sense God's presence, and if there are particular struggles I am seeking to overcome, contemplate how I will remember I am not alone.
Believing I will eat tomorrow.
As each day I remember to connect with God in this way, I realize how God is talking all day. And as one Jesuit has shared, the examen allows us to turn up the volume of what God is saying and hear " I am with you, my friend!"Living with Christ, laboring with Christ and loving with Christ- seeing things in a whole new light. Not only given the peace to rest for tomorrow but the ability to give our bread away knowing we are loved and free to do so.
As the time of the examen ends, one can pray the Lord's Prayer-it is then that I am reminded just how great that daily bread really is.