One thing all the saints seem to have in common was an intimate relationship with God. Their relationship went beyond just a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Rather, the relationship they had was characterized by closeness, mutual sharing, trust, and safety.
They felt this intimacy at a cognitive and emotional level--they could share their thoughts and feelings freely with God, without fear of being judged or condemned. It was an experiential intimacy--they had no need for words or gestures, but were able to simply enjoy God's presence, and let God enjoy theirs. They also shared a physical intimacy--as the Incarnation tells us, God is an embodied experience, and the saints found God in material things such as nature and especially the sacraments. And, of course, they shared a spiritual intimacy with God--they knew God in the innermost depths of their souls.
I too seek such intimacy, but the honest truth is that it can be really hard to find it in the busyness of 21st-century America. Fortunately, St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) taught me a simple way to seek intimacy with God called the Examen.
Briefly, the Examen is a prayerful review of your day. There are many variations (my favorites are those offered by Mark Thibodeaux, SJ), and I offer you one of my own below.
- Center yourself by paying attention to your breath. Our breath reminds us that it is God who breathes life into us (Genesis 2:7) and that the Holy Spirit is with us. (John 20:22)
- Pray for freedom. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, to broaden your perspective to see the world not as you see it, but as God sees it.
- Review your day. Identify one moment each of the following: 1) A moment of gratitude. What are most thankful for? 2) A moment of moving toward God. When did you feel close to God? 3) A moment of moving away from God. When did God seem distant or absent? Bring to mind as many sensory details about each of these moments. Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? What feelings, sights, sounds, and smells do you associate with those moments?
- Share these moments with Jesus, as if you were talking to an intimate friend. What questions do you have? What does he tell you? Give thanks for the things you are grateful for and ask forgiveness if you need to.
- Look forward to tomorrow. What challenges do you anticipate facing? What graces will you need to draw closer to God in the day to come? Ask Jesus for them, for as he tells us, "Ask, and it will be given you." (Luke 11:9)
- Close with a prayer or a simple Amen.
The Examen is the prefect prayer for commuters. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes and you can pray it anywhere and at any time; I usually pray the Examen on the train ride home for work. It is a great way to get know yourself better, and by knowing yourself better, you will come to know God better.
And that is, after all, the ultimate outcome of intimacy: loving knowledge about another.