This year has been nuts so far. I’ll spare you the details, and it’s nothing tragic, but the emotional and logistical curveballs thrown my way the past few months have meant I’ve had to choke up on the bat and strategize every incoming pitch with focus and fortitude.
It’s okay because, in all of it, I’m reminded of the simple truth that this rigamarole isn’t an anomaly of life, this is how life is. Life isn’t a predictable routine of checkboxes and errands (though there are seasons when it certainly feels that way). Life is sometimes …messy. Life is sometimes a gauntlet of decisions to be made and actions to be taken in faith. There are routine seasons in life when we flop our heads on the pillow each night with a desperate prayer akin to Jesus, take the wheel.
My last-year self has been reminding my present-day self that I already know all this, and that I already know the power of predictable morning and evening bookends, both through seasons of hullabaloo and humdrum, because I’ve been practicing for a while now the habit of harnessing these parts of my days. My last-year self is reminding my present-day self of this because last year I wrote a simple journal to capture these bookends, and this year it becomes available for you.
St. Ignatius of Loyola directed his students through a practice known as Examen, a daily time of prayer to express gratitude to God, reflect on the day and notice God’s hand in it, and ask for guidance about what’s next. This practice was personally so essential for Ignatius that he prescribed to his Jesuits a twice-daily Examen.
Five hundred years later, people all over the world still practice this daily habit, both consecrated Jesuits who have taken official vows and everyday folks like the rest of us. This concept may seem like a simple idea to us today, but the Examen became the hallmark of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.
Frankly—it’s a genius, simple way to notice God in the ordinary everyday.
Ignatius’ military background provided a tight, structured framework for his followers, and while we definitely don’t need to embody a dogmatic formation best served for a soldier in bootcamp, we’d still be wise to recognize the need for order in the contemplative parts of our day.
Examen is usually associated with the evening, as a way to close out the day, and it traditionally consists of five steps. Mark Thibodeaux, a Jesuit spiritual director, uses the mnemonic Relish, Request, Review, Repent, and Resolve to help remember these steps.But we can customize this tradition so that it best suits our particular life stage, situation, and temperament, and also tap into the wisdom of examen in the mornings, bookending our days with contemplation and awareness so that we spend our waking hours well.
This is what I’ve personally been practicing in my own life for a while, and this is what this new journal will help you do. It’s called First Light & Eventide, and I legit think you’ll love it.
It includes six short questions—three in the morning and three in the evening. Keep the journal on your nightstand, and before long, you’ll develop a habit of contemplative bookends that take no more than ten minutes, tops. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you can dedicate a few minutes of reflection to your day, even if the rest of it is total chaos. Like good bookends, these morning and evening practices will hold up strong and sturdy everything that’s in between.
First Light & Eventide becomes available on August 29, just in time to start a new school year. It’s good for you and I think you should order it for yourself, but it also makes a great gift for that student or teacher in your life, the new parent desperate for some semblance of sanity, the empty nester pining for a bit more structure, or that busy middle-aged working adult hankering for more meaning in the mundane routine of the ordinary.
In other words: this journal pretty much is for everybody. After all, the timeless practice of Examen was originally prescribed to consecrated Jesuits steeped in a militaristic-ally disciplined community, and yet it’s been practiced by literally millions of regular folks with regular lives. That’s us.
It’s still a few months away until First Light’s release, but you’d do this journal an enormous benefit by pre-ordering it now. Pre-ordering tells publishers, booksellers, and others in the industry to have plenty in stock. As a reader, pre-ordering a book is a small thing to do, but it’s truly the most powerful thing you could do to support a writer and her book project.
Order one for yourself, and order several more for your family. Order them for your small groups, your book clubs, your classes, your neighbors. Practice this habit of morning and evening bookends together, in community.
And thank you, in advance, for doing so. I know I say it frequently, but that’s because it remains true after all these years: this work isn’t possible without you guys, and I’m beyond grateful for your being here. Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my words. I wrote this journal for you. I’d love for this simple practice to change your life. It has mine.
As for me this morning… I see a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel because we’re just a few weeks to summer break and life will slow down considerably. I’m eager for it, but in the meantime, I’ll sip my coffee, lean into my bookends, and do the things I need to do in between. May is always pure pandemonium for both parents and teachers. Jesus, take the wheel.
Ora et Labora,
My sports analogy for the year. I got nothing else.
Mark E. Thibodeaux, Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray From Your Day (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015), xi.
Really and truly.
This looks absolutely beautiful. I love doing the examen when I remember and the idea of having it as a journal sounds brilliant. Can I ask will it be available in the uk?
I’ve ordered my copy! Looking forward to establishing a better routine.