In this series of blog posts, Life lessons from a Trappist Monk, I share the wisdom of my late friend Brother Rene, who was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani for over fifty years. For many years we corresponded by letter, and here I share excerpts from his letters.
How blind and small one would be to say or feel (when one is conscious of the presence of God) ‘How great I am.’ God wants us to feel good in his presence (very good) to be sure but this is because of the Power of His Love for us—Brother Rene, excerpt from letter, dated June 10, 2003.
For a while now, I have been engaging in the prayer of examen, which is a daily method of reflecting on one’s day. It’s a powerful practice to help cultivate an orientation of seeing one’s daily life as a sacred experience, the place where we are always meeting God if we notice and pay attention.
In particular, I like the examen that comes from the book, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our lives Today, by Timmy M. Gallagher, OMV.
Gallagher suggests we open our daily practice by, “becoming aware of the Love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.”
Pause for a moment and repeat to yourself: I become aware of the Love with which God looks upon me. That awareness alone is extremely powerful and transformative. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice how your body feels when you take these words into your heart.
This is not a love that is earned, or conditional, but rather constant and always present. As Brother René said, “God wants us to feel good in his presence (very good) to be sure but this is because of the Power of His Love for us.”
We experience the power of God’s love in our everyday lives. Yesterday, I had a hard day at work, and found myself feeling stretched thin: too many people asking me for too many things. As I was shelving the books at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but cry a little to relieve the pressure of the day. It felt good, and I heard myself saying, “I can accept myself and how I am feeling right now.” I knew God was looking at me with love at that very moment.
As I continued to put the books away, with tears and love, someone from the afterschool program came in to ask if she could bring a group into the library. “I just need some time alone,” I said to her, “It’s been a tough day.” She saw the tears in my eyes, and she reached out and gave me a hug. I received it. I received God’s love.
Yes, there are moments when I am receptive to love, and yet, there are moments when I am not open and receptive to love. Sometimes, when my husband reaches out to hold my hand, I don’t respond, and even feel myself pulling away. And there are days, when I can’t get beyond the voice of self criticism. I am asking myself: What are the borders in me, in my mind and heart, that are not allowing me to receive love? Where and why do I push God’s love away?
Can you let yourself seek the power of love that Brother René invites us to experience? If you are anything like me, you will find where your heart struggles. That is a good place, a place where we can ask in prayer for Love to deepen in us. Our love relationship with God, and with each other, is a dynamic experience, and as our heart struggles it also grows.
Perhaps, you would like to do a simple daily examen today:
= Find a quiet place, and sit comfortably.
= Begin by taking three deep breaths, and invite yourself to relax.
= Slowly, review your day and ask the questions: How did I receive love today? How was God’s love present in my day? How did I close myself off from receiving love today? How did I push God’s love away?
= Remember, always do your examen by remembering that God is looking at you with love, and always wanting to heal you and bring you closer.
If you would like to read more from my correspondence with Brother René, check out my forthcoming book, which contains excerpts from our letters: Seeking Surrender: How my Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught me to Trust and Embrace Life (Ave Maria Press, April 2015).