Stop-Sign Examen

stop sign

It’s traditional to undertake the Examen in the middle of the day and just before bed, but for the last few weeks, I’ve found myself starting the day with a version of this reflective prayer.

It starts as I watch yet another car blow through the stop sign at the edge of the neighborhood. Sometimes I honk; sometimes I sigh. Always, I am aware of God’s presence and grateful—as one should be at the start of the Examen—that I have once again emerged unscathed. But as I wait in a long line of traffic to cross the bridge, I’m finding this casual, almost snarky, “Thank God!” slips into a litany of true gratitude, a moment when God is stirring me into greater awareness.

Despite the hulking SUVs that I imagine threaten my little red car, I’m grateful to be able to travel safely to work and to worship. I am employed at a job I love. There is lunch in my bag. I am fed. I have a hot thermos of tea at hand. I am warm. Amen, amen.

I traverse a dozen stop signs on my 15-minute drive to work. Many of them have a sign tacked up just below: “Complete stops: Free. Rolling stops: $123.50. Your choice, courtesy of the Haverford Township Police.” These last weeks I have been more conscious of coming to that full stop. Not to avoid the pain of a fine, but because I find I notice what—and more importantly, who—is waiting on the sides of the street. The workers at the local hospital who get off the trolley several blocks early, to save money on their fares. The women waiting for the bus. The trash collectors, waiting for a break in the school traffic to pick up the recycling.

Each stop I think about the people I blow past in my daily life. The times when I pick up the pace so I can get to the check-out stand before the man with the cranky children and the full cart. The times when I don’t stop to listen to a colleague, but pour out my own complaints and move on. The moments when I don’t notice the student standing just outside my office, uncertain if she should knock.

I imagine God at each intersection point asking, “Do you see me?” I think of the last line of Mary Oliver’s poem, “What I Have Learned So Far”: “The gospel of / light is the crossroads of—indolence, or action. / Be ignited, or be gone.”

As I grab my bag and head up the stairs to my office, I pray for the grace to see the stop signs, that when I reach each crossroad, I might stop long enough to see the light of God on every corner. I pray that I might not be gone, zipping on to the next thing, but aflame. Ignited.

About Michelle Francl-Donnay 28 Articles
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.

5 Comments on Stop-Sign Examen

  1. My project has been to listen with full attention, not to interject… to make a full stop…to be present to the other…in a full stop. Thanks for your story.

  2. This is a quite wonderful reflection, Michelle. Thank you. I love the idea of observing the Stop signs and using that pause as a chance to be preset to others. And when I am truly present–I think I am dwelling in the Holy Spirit.

  3. Excellent reflection! Every day my prayer is that I will be present for whomever God brings. People need our presence most of all. Thanks for the reminder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*