J. R. R. Tolkien gives one of the most entrancing descriptions of the true nature of Sabbath. In book 1 of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he describes a time of rest and healing in the house of Elrond in Rivendell. The hobbits, along with Strider, their guide, have made a dangerous, almost fatal journey to this place. They will soon have to make an even more dangerous, almost certainly fatal journey away from this place. But in the meantime, this: For awhile the hobbits continued to talk and think of the past journey and of the perils that lay ahead; but such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.2 The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have power over the present. That’s Sabbath.
There is too wide a gap, for most of us, between what we say and what we mean. Between our words and our thoughts. The first thing the Prophet Isaiah said when he saw the living and exalted God was, “Woe is me, I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah was one of the most godly men who ever walked the earth. But seeing God, he sees also, abrupt and stark and grief-making, his own duplicity. Then God does what only God can do: he sears his lips clean (Isaiah 6:6-7). And herein lies our hope: truly seeing God, we truly see ourselves, in all our woe-begotten duplicity; but crying out to God, we are truly and greatly helped.
The examen is a form of personal inventory. At day’s end, spend time in prayerful reflection on your day: your comings and goings, routines and disruptions, work and play, discoveries and disappointments. Think about who you met, or missed. Think about your moments of aloneness. In all, ask two questions: when was I most alive, most present, most filled and fulfilled today? And when was I most taxed, stressed, distracted, depleted today? A simpler, and more spiritually focused, version of those questions: when did I feel closest to God, and when farthest?