Friday, October 02, 2009

The Awareness Exercise

“If you are weary of some sleepy form of devotion, probably God is as weary of it as you are.”
(Frank Laubach,
Man of Prayer)

One of the most beneficial things we can do in our walk with God, is to switch up the routine. Often, we become numbed of the monotony of our lives. As a result we slowly become less attuned to God's present activity in our lives. The following is a simply exercise to help cultivate and nurture greater sensitive to God's active involvement in our daily lives.

The Awareness Exercise (2) is a spiritual exercise to help one find God in all things. The modern understanding of the Awareness Exercise is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (3) especially in the exercise called the Contemplatio.

The spirituality of this exercise, the Contemplatio, is the spirituality of finding and loving God in all things. The Contemplatio assumes God's love for us and it is an aid to help us in gratitude to grow in our love and service of God. This exercise has a contemplative quality to it and is focused on our inner experience of the Trinity. How is God "drawing" me (John 6:44) in my existential awareness or consciousness? Hence, the name Awareness or Consciousness Exercise. In the Awareness Exercise we are not focused on our conscience but on our consciousness, i.e., on our awareness of what is going on in our interior experience. Thus the Awareness Exercise is related to the discernment of spirits.

The discernment of spirits is about detecting among the various influences at work within me which ones lead to God and which ones lead away from God and how I am responding to them. The Awareness Exercise, then, is a daily focused exercise of discernment in a person's life. Our focus in the Awareness Exercise is on the presence and action of God in our lived experience.

This spiritual exercise asks the questions: how has God been present to and active in me today in the people, events and circumstances that I have experienced? How have I responded? The St. Augustine's Seminary Spiritual Program states it this way: "The focus of this exercise is your growing awareness of the presence of Christ in situations, events and persons during that day, and the nature of your response to this presence". [emphasis mine]

Presence-- this spiritual exercise is interpersonal, that is, it is about the mutual presence of one person (risen Christ) to another person (you)

Situations, events and persons -- how is the presence of Christ mediated to me during the course of my day? The answer is in the persons, events and circumstances that I daily experience.

Your growing awareness -- Christ can be present to us, but we may not recognize or pay attention to Him. This exercise helps us become aware of Christ's presence and to grow in that awareness. Further, it is your awareness that is important, not someone else's. We are not contemplating the awareness of St. John of the Cross or of St. Therese, as helpful as that may be in other times of prayer.

Response -- the reason we want to grow in our awareness of Christ is so that we can live in closer union with Him, recognize His will and respond to Him by uniting ourselves to what He is doing in our life, in the lives of the people we encounter and serve, and in the world.

This spiritual exercise practiced faithfully can with the help of God's grace form you into a contemplative in action, that is, it will enable you to find God in all things and so unite yourself to the work of the Trinity in the world. The Awareness Exercise takes about 15 minutes and is often best performed daily towards the end of the day.

1. These notes for the use of seminarians at St. Augustine's Seminary, Toronto, draw heavily on the work of the following Jesuits who have written about the Awareness Exercise: John Veltri, John English, Joseph McArdle, Douglas McCarthy, George Aschenbrenner, Michael Ivens and Joseph Tetlow.

2. The Awareness Exercise is also commonly known as the Consciousness Examen or Awareness Examen.

3. It is rooted in three spiritual exercises in the Spiritual Exercises of St,. Ignatius of Loyola. These three exercises are: General Examination of Conscience (#32-43, especially 43), Daily Particular Examination of Conscience (#24-31), and the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God (#230-237, known by its Latin name Contemplatio). The first two exercises are similar to what is known as the Examination of Conscience. The Examination of Conscience is usually done in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and focuses on faults and sins, sorrow for them, and the need to eradicate them. Hence the Awareness Exercise is broader and more foundational than the Examination of Conscience. Our focus in the Awareness Exercise is not primarily on faults and sins but on the presence and action of God in our lived experience.

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