Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” [Gn 28:16-17]
It was late, the sun had already set, and Jacob was tired enough to pillow his head on a rock - only to wake the next day from a dream of angels and ladders with the awestruck realization that he was in the presence of the Lord. Most of my mornings don’t begin quite this dramatically. Dawn more often finds me at the kitchen counter with a cup of tea, suspended in stillness before the kids scramble down their bunk bed ladders. But I am beginning to realize that in this mundane moment, I am no less in the presence of God than Jacob was.
I’m tired enough these days to pull up a handy rock and sleep, but no matter how exhausted I am, and how many papers remain to grade, my last fifteen waking minutes are sacrosanct. I use them as St. Ignatius advised - to look at my day with God.
The practice is called the examen, and begins with asking God to open my eyes to see my day as He might see it. I look for the times where I have failed to recognize God, where I have failed to follow Him, but I ask equally to be shown where God has revealed His strength, His presence, and His love to me.
God is not always where I expect, and sometimes I miss His trace the first time round. At the end of a very long day last week, the place God chose to show Himself at work in my life was my cup of tea. Recalling my first bracing sip that morning, and the warmth of the mug in my hand, I became aware that God had subtly offered me strength and ease for the difficult day I did not know was about to unfold.
In his reflection “God of My Daily Routine”, Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner hopes in his life to “see the few precious instances when the grace of Your love has succeeded in stealing into an obscure corner of my life”. The examen enabled me to see God slipping into my day in the corner of my kitchen. Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it.
Rahner goes on to remind us “if there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the middle of my very ordinary daily life.” God is unlikely to reveal His role for me in the salvation of His people quite as grandly as he did for Jacob, yet a plan He does have. I am encouraged to keep rummaging through my routine days, looking for the path, trying to avoid the inevitable bumps and potholes, and alert to the unexpectedly sacred places.
Five hundred years ago, St. Ignatius advised overextended Jesuits that while they might neglect their breviary, never forgo making the examen. Our lives are no less busy today. Take Ignatius’ advice. Sit with God each night and ask Him to let you see the world around you as nothing less than His house and the gates of grace.
Touch my heart with this grace, O Lord. When I reach out in joy or in sorrow for the things of this world, grant that through them I may know and love You, their Maker and final home. You who are Love itself, give me the grace of love, give me Yourself, so that all my days may finally empty into the one day of Your eternal Life. Amen. [ from Karl Rahner, SJ's reflection, "The God of My Routine" in Encounters in Silence]
The photo is of the ceiling in Sant' Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio. c. Br. Lawrence Lew, OP.