A young man with a cognitive disability greeted me on a recent trip to the grocery store. His joy radiated across the citrus fruits aisle. Tears welled in my eyes. Not two seconds later, the man spotted his dad and raced toward the salad dressing. The moment passed quickly as most moments do—but not before I made a note in my journal: Grocery store man. So friendly. Tears.
By estimate, I encounter somewhere around 100 people and tend to even more tasks each day. The sheer volume of daily interactions makes it hard to recall each one. I’m afraid grocery store man’s glow—and the way it touched my heart—would have been lost in the bustle if not for a new prayer practice I’m trying out: Bullet journaling with an Ignatian twist.
Ryder Carroll developed the popular Bullet Journal as a mindfulness practice. Users track tasks, feelings, events, and other aspects of life by making short notes in different categories of their journal throughout the day. The result is a landmine of personal data for reflection: Why do I prioritize X over Y? Who and what do I spend time with—and what does that say about my values? The goal of the Bullet Journal is to help people “live an intentional life” that is “both productive and meaningful,” according to Carroll. Pausing to make even a short note invites the user into gratitude for the present moment.
The sacred overtones laced through this secular resource are obvious. A friend suggested I try integrating the Bullet Journal method into my Daily Examen, an Ignatian prayer practice of reflecting on the movements of the day in order to grow in awareness of God’s presence. I modified the Bullet Journal approach for steps two and three of the Examen. The result: my whole day became a prayer. This is how I work through the five-step Examen:
Become aware of God’s presence. I start each morning with a cup of coffee and a scripture passage. It’s my quiet time to talk with God and ask questions, wonder, and argue. This first step could be as simple as wishing God a good morning or saying a quick thank you for the day before heading out the door.
Review the day with gratitude. My journal is (almost) always with me throughout the day. I take short bullet-point notes of people, projects, meals, insights, and anything else that strikes me as a revelation of God’s presence or absence.
Pay attention to emotions. In line with the third step of the Examen, I take special care to note any emotions that bubble up.
Choose one feature from the day and pray from it. My brain is fried by the end of the day. I love having an inventory of the day’s significant moments, large and small, to review before going to bed. I highlight one feature from the day’s journal and talk with God about it.
Look toward tomorrow. The day’s Examen ends with a look at tomorrow’s schedule. Where might I encounter God? What am I already grateful for heading into a new day?
Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” Bullet journaling with an Ignatian twist opens my eyes to the altars all around, from the friendly man at the grocery store to comforting words in a moment of anxiety. This prayer practice helps me grow in my awareness of the divine in the daily. Consider giving it a try.
This article also appears in the February 2019 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 84, No. 2, page 10).