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Being attentive to the bigger picture

pray the examen

God’s goodness: “Ignatius’ Examen turns the mistakes of the day into an opportunity to notice God at work.”

NOTICE the colour purple.

The phrase caught my intrigue halfway down a list of resolutions in Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project.

I’m not particularly fond of purple, but the unconventional mandate velcroed itself to my mind.

Occasionally on the bus to university, I’ll remember the phrase, notice something purple, and struggle to resist a self-congratulatory smile.

Purple makes me present in the moment.

When I’m seeking to see something, I offer it my unblemished attention.

I’m liberated from the shackles of self-consciousness to appreciate an external reality.

I don’t wonder that practices of secular mindfulness and gratitude journaling are on the rise.

They capture, if incompletely, the heart of a powerful spiritual tradition – being attentive to the bigger picture.

St Ignatius of Loyola suggests that gratitude is the spontaneous result of noticing God’s goodness.

His method of ending the day with an Examen combats those fatalistic glances in the existential mirror by drawing our focus outwards.

How was God present in my life today?

How do I see His love at work in the world?

How is He communicating with me in every moment to draw me deeper into His heart of mercy?

Too often, I end my day in a flurry of agitated revisions: I shouldn’t have said that.

This person is probably judging me.

I wish I weren’t so bad at such-and-such.

Inevitably, I wake up with a sour taste in my mouth, still convinced of my own incompetence and weaker in optimism for the new day.

When I notice only myself, I become a slave to disappointment and frustrated perfectionism.

When I notice the colour purple, I remember that something external is worth rejoicing in.

When I notice God, gratitude is the spontaneous and paradigm-transforming fruit.

In the book The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis recounts Shasta’s internal experience of the Fight at Anvard – his helmet is too big and keeps falling in front of his eyes; he falls off his horse; for most of the battle he’s convinced not merely of his own incompetence, but also of the certain loss of his army.

“But it is no use trying to describe the battle from Shasta’s point of view; he understood too little of the fight in general and even of his own part in it.”

Zooming out to a vantage point many kilometres away, Lewis shares with the reader that Shasta is part of a victory.

Zooming out – becoming attentive to the bigger picture – I give God a chance to share with me that my life is part of a victory.

Ignatius’ Examen turns the mistakes of the day into an opportunity to notice God at work.

From our own perspective, we understand too little of the fight.

We get caught up in the details of our own incompetence and forget to notice the bigger victory that is being affected by the Lord.

Noticing God’s goodness empowers us to receive it and be transformed by it.

Peculiarly enough, learning to look back with gratitude gives us the capacity for something else – looking forward with hope.

Attentiveness to God’s goodness today inspires confidence in His goodness tomorrow and every day.

Kate Gilday is a university student and youth leader in the Brisbane archdiocese. Her dream is to write for the Catholic Church.

Written by: Guest Contributor

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