Blue spring flowers on the Cathedral grounds

The Middle English origin of the word “Lent” is “spring.”  The spring that is breaking out all around us is green with new growth; so as I begin the 40 days of Lent, I am eager to grow in my capacity to love. I’m hoping, with God’s help, to deepen my compassion for all the people who fill my life.

I’ve discovered over the years that the prayer known as “Consciousness Examen” is a great way to focus my attention on the “nitty gritty” of loving. It’s also an opportunity to place all my Lenten efforts into the hands of God. Acknowledging God’s role in my growth keeps Lent from being just another self-help program.

The Consciousness Examen consists of 5 simple steps. All five steps can be completed in as little as 8 minutes! (This is important for me to remember because it is so easy to make excuses: “I’ll pray later; I don’t have time now.” On a good day, my better self will insist: “Julie, surely you can spare 8 minutes!”)

Step One – Relax!

Take 4 or 5 deep breaths. Remember Jesus’ promise to us: “I am with you always…”

Step Two –  Remember

Slowly, play the “movie” of your last 24 hours. What’s been going on? How are you feeling? Peaceful? Bored? Energized? Stressed?

Step Three – Give thanks

Having watched your “movie,” take a moment to give thanks. Right here, right now, for what or for whom are you most grateful? Your gratitude can spring from something as ordinary as a great phone chat with a friend or as profound as a sibling’s steady recovery from illness.

Step Four – Reflect

Looking over the past day, is there anything you regret? Any questionable choices? Were there missed opportunities to love? Talk to God about your “growing edges.”

Step Five – Resolve

As you move through the rest of your day, what challenges do you face? Tell God about your hopes, fears, or hesitations. Ask God for whatever you need to live a life of compassion.

Step Six – Return to gratitude

Sit quietly and listen. In what way has this examen been helpful? Thank God for whatever insight you’ve received.

Dear God, your mercy is without end.  Place me in the center of your heart and teach me to love myself and others with your tenderness. Help me to see other people as you see them. Free me from fear and let me say “Yes” to you with great confidence and much joy. Amen.