Karen and I are slow to put Christmas away.
The special decorations are still out—the manger scenes, the statues of the wise men, and such. The Christmas dishes, bowls, and mugs are still displayed on our kitchen counter. A hint of Santa can still be found around the great room, especially ornamenting the tree. Yes, it’s still standing, and probably will be for another week or so.
And all the lights.
The tree lights that mingle with those adorning the garland that stretches across our fireplace mantel. The strings of icicles wrapped around the handrail that illuminate the deck every night from dusk until midnight. And the little switch-on bulbs that give Karen’s “glassy babies” the appearance of candles burning inside.
For a little while longer, they’ll all continue to brighten our moods.
We ushered in the new year, quietly, at the home of close friends nestled in the Olympic Mountains of Washington.
On the morning of January 2, when we settled in front of the fireplace, bathing in its warmth, we were in a reflective mood. Rather than set goals and resolutions for 2024, we decided to look back over 2023. Karen pulled together a resource called “The Great Annual Examen” from our files, which was posted online a few years back.* We went through it together, and I’m glad we did.
We’re familiar with the spiritual formation practice of examen, having utilized this daily practice to record highlights of our past vacations.
The examen was crafted by Ignatius of Loyola more than five hundred years ago as a means of prayer to help people reflect on a period of time—a day, a year, even a lifetime—in terms of how they experienced God.
Or, if you prefer, simply as a way to remember the details of an experience through a number of simple prompts. Like best and worst tastes of the day, favorite person, best site, and one’s high and low emotions.
Anyway, this was our first annual examen, and we had much to record. The first 10 questions in the packet primed the pump.
Here’s a sample:
What are the most important events that have happened to or in me this past year? What are the greatest breakthroughs in any category of my life this past year (like physically, emotionally, relationally, vocationally, spiritually, with other people)? Where have I experienced the presence of God this past year, and why? In the past 12 months, where have I experienced the greatest sense of consolation (i.e. peace, happiness, contentment)? Likewise, what area of my life has given me the most desolation (like distress, sadness, anxiety, and fear)?
Then we moved on to five categories of our lives…physical health, emotional health, vocational health, relational health, and spiritual health. We took it slow and chose to skip certain questions.
2023 was a tumultuous year in so many ways. We recorded how it impacted us individually and as a couple. How it helped us to understand God’s tapestry for our lives in the midst of it all. This past year is now a matter of record for the Mizrahis, ready to be reviewed at any other time rather than be left to the fog of a faulty memory.
All that’s left now is to bundle up Christmas and stow it away, and maybe set a few goals. Allow me to share a poem that seems apropos.
“For Longing,” by John Donohue, an Irish poet, author, and priest:
“Blessed be the longing that brought you here and quickens your soul with wonder.
“May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
“May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
“May the forms of your longing—in love, creativity, and friendship—be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
“May the one you long for long for you. May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
“May a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
“May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.”
Happy New Year, everyone!