The following reflection is part of our “Jesuit 101” series, celebrating the Ignatian Year. This piece helps us to better understand the Ignatian Examen. To learn more, check out our explainer article: “Jesuit 101: The Ignatian Examen.”
“Where you going in such a hurry?
Don’t you think it’s time you realized
There’s a whole lot more to life than work and worry.
The sweetest things in life are free
And there right before your eyes.
You got to stop and smell the roses
You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday.”
Philosophers across time have encouraged us to “stop and smell the roses.” In Plato’s Apology, Socrates famously said before committing suicide, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Ferris Bueller’s parting words of wisdom were,“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Whichever phrase floats your boat, they revolve around a central truth: We have to slow down, live life in gratitude. We have to look back in hindsight to recognize the times when we either responded to or ignored God’s tender love throughout the “mundaneness” of the day. In Ignatian terminology, we have to pay careful attention to how the Holy Spirit is moving in each moment of our daily lives. When we ask God to enlighten our hearts during the process so that we can deepen our response to Christ the next day, we end up with the Ignatian Examen.
Rather than praying the customary daily examen, I am making a year-long examen of my time in Urcos, Perú. To settle into this journey back in time, I reread my prayer journal.
As I page through it, I realize there were several times when I wrote about my worry for how all the day’s activities would pan out — teaching classes, saying a funeral prayer service in the afternoon, and then attending the confirmation preparatory meeting. I doubt that everything will work out, that God, and the people I’ve gotten to know, would support me through it all. As I prepare to pray over these anxious memories, I am reminded of the tune of Mac Davis: “There’s a whole lot more to life than work and worry.” Or, as Ignatius said, “Work as if everything depends on you, and pray as if everything depends on God.”
I move on to the steps of the Ignatian Examen. The first steps include spending time in gratitude for the blessings received and asking for the help of the Holy Spirit to enlighten me so that I may see with the light of God’s grace. As I look back at this past year, I ask myself, what circumstances am I grateful for? Which moments allowed me to stop and smell the “roses”?
I’m rushing to figure out what I should buy a friend for her birthday. I settled on a bouquet of flowers, as the market is less than a block away from the Jesuit community. Since it was one of the first birthday celebrations I attended while in Urcos, I had no idea how long it would last, though I figured an hour and a half would be plenty, thinking, “What do you do besides eat cake and sing Happy Birthday?” Was I ever wrong! Many hours later, I was finally saying my goodbyes. Though the flowers were a kind gesture and smelled nice, what truly made me “stop and smell the roses” was spending all that time with my friend and her family and friends. They reminded me that “The sweetest things in life are free and there right before your eyes.” I stop and smell the roses.
It’s completely dark out as I walk back to the Jesuit community. I open up the large metal door leading into the front yard. I walk just a few steps towards the house, and I’m eagerly greeted by our community’s two dogs. I squat down and while petting them, I look up at the night sky and find Orion’s belt. Though I’ve seen that starry sky every night for the past year, I’m still blown away every time.
Jesuit communities rarely have dogs, and they remind me of my family’s dogs while growing up, most especially the lesson they taught me: to slow down and simply be. Just like the dogs of my childhood, these Peruvian dogs seem to plead with me saying, “Conan, don’t go yet. Just stay here and pet me.” But after thirty seconds, I want to get in the house and eat dinner. I stand back up and tell them, “Vamos, vamos!” (“Let’s go, let’s go!”) I walk up the path to the front door, and their puppy-eyes beg me to pet them again. I want to eat dinner and call it a night, so a part of me simply wants to open up the front door and head inside — “I was just petting you two fifteen seconds ago!” I cave and pet them again. I look up at the stars and that sensation of being so small in the grand scheme of life, yet at the same time, invaluable in God’s eyes, hits me…but it takes their eager puppy eyes and their expectant, wagging tails for me to slow down and actually look up at that starry sky. I stop and smell the dogs.
It’s around 8:00 PM, and I just finished a three-hour-long meeting with the college-aged catechists in which we planned out the schedule for the Saturday confirmation class. I want to head back to the house and crash. We bid our farewells on the corner of the church steps, and a stone’s throw away on the other corner of the church steps, I see her. Grandma Luisa. She’s at her cart selling picarones (Peruvian doughnuts). I can’t walk by without saying hello. We’re still chatting ten minutes later, so she invites me to take a seat on the plastic stool. After telling her a little about how the classes I’m teaching at Fe y Alegría are going, I find out that she’s looking for three large print Bibles. I tell her the next time I’m in Cusco (an hour or so drive away), I’ll pick some up. Another ten minutes goes by, and we’re still chatting. While listening to her, I anxiously remember I still have to text a catechist asking about what materials we need for the confirmation workshop tomorrow. “Uno más?” (“One more?”) She sweetly interrupts my preoccupation. I stop and smell the picarones.
In these three and countless other moments, I’ve been forced to stop and smell the various roses. What have I found? I find myself swimming in gratitude. As Mac Davis sings, “You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday.” Gratitude for the moments that allowed me to stop and smell the roses, even though I didn’t want to in the moment.
Review my year. Based on my thoughts, words, and actions, was I drawing closer to God, or further away? What was God trying to communicate or teach through these moments? In all of these experiences, I realize in hindsight that I was being invited by God to simply be. At the birthday party, it was being in the company of friends that invited me to stop and smell the roses. When I walk up the entrance to our house, it’s our community’s dogs that invite me to sit still for long enough to notice the starry sky above me. When I’m exhausted after a long day, it’s Luisa who gets me out of my preoccupations.
The final step of my Examen: look toward the next year and resolve to change. God is like a mariachi band constantly serenading me with Mac Davis’ words, “Where you going in such a hurry?” Last year, I distinctively remember how I would internally grumble about how slow people walk in Urcos. Now, however, I have slowed down my walking pace, which has helped me to stop and smell the roses. My worries of how things will pan out or how I will get everything finished are a distraction that make me forget to be, for my temptation is believing I have to go from one thing to the next. Lord, help me to smell the “roses” of life in my last year here. But before I can smell any of the “roses,” I am reminded of what I have to do first. Stop.