Finding God in the Midst of Chaos

by | Jan 30, 2012 | Uncategorized

Holding Tight

I spend my days in a Level I Trauma Center.  Most people familiar with Jesuit education imagine a Regent to be a high school teacher, but not all of us share that experience of Jesuit regency.  In May of 2010, I was assigned to the Regis University Jesuit Community to work at a local Denver hospital as a Registered Nurse, an assignment that has brought many different experiences to the table.  The emergency room has brought me many such experiences.

While working in the Emergency Department (ED), I heard overhead the following announcement repeated three times, as is the protocol: “Pediatric Code Blue.  Emergency Room.  Five minutes by ground.”  Just so you know, these are probably the worst words that can come across the overhead paging system.  Soon a two-year-old child was brought into our ED.  When she arrived, there was no heartbeat.  The firemen and paramedics were breathing for her.  We began life-saving procedures and were able to gain a heartbeat, but it was one that would not last long.  A short flight to the local children’s hospital followed, but only a few minutes after arrival this young life was presented to the Lord, the God Most High.  She was alleviated from all of her pain and suffering.

From the moment this young child was brought into the trauma room, I knew that God was present.  As the new nurse in the ED, my role was to watch and learn and try to be helpful to the team. I did what I could.  I began CPR, I held the child’s hand, and most importantly (probably just for me) I placed my hand on the child’s head and prayed as hard as I could for her.  I was filled with an overwhelming sense of God’s love and grace.  Suddenly I heard a voice say to me, “baptize this child and claim her for Christ.”  So, I did. I spoke the child’s name and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  My child, you now belong to Christ.”

After that was done, I looked around the room.  Present with us were four or five police officers, about half a dozen firemen, and the paramedics who brought this young child to the emergency department.  I could almost feel the pain, anxiety, and stress they were experiencing.  The looks of concern on their faces for a child that they didn’t even know was astounding, looks that told me that they were looking at the face of their own child.  What had happened to this child was their worst nightmare of what could happen to their own.

What a terrible way to end the day!  I wish I would never have to experience such things, but such is life as an RN in a Level I Trauma Center.  I am often asked how I deal with so much tragedy through out the day.  How is it that I can experience so much death and still come back home and carry on with my other obligations in life?  The answer to that question is a simple one: my faith in God.  I know that no matter what I do in the emergency room, in the end, the outcome will be according to the will of God.

I also tell people that part of the answer is prayer.  A particular practice of prayer that I have found particularly helpful is known in Ignatian spiritualty as “the examen.”  Ignatius of Loyola, from the very beginning, promised that we can find God in all things.  He teaches us that God can be found in the good things of life and in the bad, in the things that make us happy and the things that make us sad.  Sometimes these can be matters that are extremely difficult; sometimes they can be things that are so everyday that we are blinded to God’s presence in them.  But enough of my babbling; let me present to you different ways of opening our eyes to the awesome presence of God active in the world.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

How is it that we can find God in all things?  Where did Ignatius come up with this idea?  It’s one that is present in many different spiritualities and traditions, from ancient times up to the present day.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta says, “I see the face of Christ in one of his more distressing disguises in the poor and the dying.”1  In Genesis 1:27, the writer tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  If this is true, then God is present in each one of us and therefore should be found in everyday events. If we belong to God, then God will present himself in a way that makes our “soul yearn for God, like a deer yearns for running water.”2

Ignatian spirituality offers several ways for us to find God in all things, but the examen is the one I feel is most important in finding God in daily life. The examen is a period of self-reflection, a time where we can look back into every aspect of our day and search for the ways in which God was present.  We then look at how, in each of those situations, we responded to God’s presence in our life.  So, how DO we pray the examen?  What is involved in this prayer?  Does it take a long time?  Am I going to get bored with this prayer?  These are questions that I have asked myself, so don’t feel bad if you are asking them yourself.

The examen consists of five elements for reflection each day.  The prayer usually takes no longer than fifteen minutes, but if you need more time, that is okay, too.  When we complete that same prayer over and over again it can become monotonous, but I think that this is a temptation that one must resist, because we all know that the evil spirit doesn’t want us any closer to God than we already are.

The following is the examen that I prayed after my shift was finished for the day at the hospital.

  1. Recall that you are in the presence of God.   As I mentioned before, I felt the presence of God almost immediately upon the arrival of the child.  On the ride home from the hospital, I turned off the radio in the car and focused on the quiet, hearing only the sound of tires on the road.  I asked God to be with me as I prayed for this young life.
  2. Spend a moment looking over your day with gratitude for its gifts.  There were many gifts of this day. I thanked God for the people with whom I work.  I was thankful for the opportunity to work in a Level 1 Trauma Center where I can experience so many things as a nurse.  I was thankful for the firemen, who with great care did everything possible to save the life of this child.
  3. Ask God to send you His Holy Spirit to help you look at your actions and attitudes and motives with honesty and patience. “When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)  Here, I simply asked for the Holy Spirit to guide my prayers.
  4. Now review your day. This is the longest of the steps. Recall the events of your day; explore the context of your actions. Search for the internal movements of your heart and your interaction with what was before you.  Allow God to speak, challenge, encourage and teach you. Thus you will come to know that Christ is with you. Christ will continually invite you to love your neighbor as yourself and strengthen you to do this.  I have noticed that over the years of praying the examen that I find it easier to focus on the ways in which I failed to see God.  This, I am sure, is due to my personality.  I found that I have to work very hard to look at the positive things throughout the day and make sure that I recognize God’s presence in those situations as well.  In that day in the hospital, the first thing that I noticed was the judgment that I passed on the family of this child.  I wondered where they were when this happened.  Why didn’t they do something to stop this child’s demise?  I even passed judgment on God, asking him why he did nothing to stop the death of this beautiful young child.  As I prayed those last words, my mind switched to the things where God was present. I noticed how grateful I was that this child would not have to suffer anymore, and that I was present during this situation to baptize this child for the salvation of her soul.  God was present in all the people who worked so hard to save this child.
  5. The final step is our heart-to-heart talk with Jesus. Here you speak with Jesus about your day. You share your thoughts on your actions, attitudes, feelings and interactions. This step is a simple conversation with Jesus.  Simply tell him how you feel.  Don’t be afraid to ask him questions or tell him if you are angry with him.  (Thankfully, he doesn’t hold a grudge).  For me, this conversation went as follows:  “Lord, I am sorry for passing judgment.  I am very thankful that you were in that room with us, that you allowed us to use the things we know to save that child, but to be able to recognize that it was your Father’s will to have that child with you in heaven.  My Lord, please protect the young who cannot protect themselves. They are so vulnerable.  Lord, help me to continue to care for all of my patients as if I were caring for my own family member.  May you grace and bless me with compassion and love, so that I may share that same compassion and love with my patients.”

Once you’ve done the Examen a few times, you will find your own rhythm and method. Cover all five points daily with freedom to dwell more on one than another, as the Spirit moves you. You might also like to add some music, candles or images to help you pray. If you would like, you may download a copy of the Examen in the form of a bookmark from our website. It is in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format and is entitled “Praying the Jesuit Examination of Conscience.”

It is sometimes very difficult for us to find the presence of God in our lives.  He will show up in places where we expect him to be, but he will also be “disguised.”  For me, I tend to find Christ the easiest in the sick and the injured; in the suffering Christ.  It is in the everyday things, like life in the community, completing my studies, or a visit with my family where I can be blind to the presence of Christ.

So I would like to close by asking you a question:  where do you find Christ in your life?  Do you see him in the everyday things?  Would it be difficult for you to find Christ in the situation that I described above?  What about that person that you really find it difficult to love?  Is Christ present in him or her?  These are questions that can be reflected on while praying the examen and while waiting for the time when God will surprise us with his active presence.  These questions, and the answers we receive, remind us every day that each of us is just like that little baby: a child of God.


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  1. David Scott is a writer and editor with a specialty in religion and culture. His current book, A Revolution of Love: The Meaning of Mother Teresa, is published by Loyola Press, which is also publishing his next book, The Catholic Passion: A New Invitation to the Faith, this month.
  2. Psalm 42:1.

Jason Brauninger, SJ   /   All posts by Jason