I don’t think I can call it “the mysterious case of the handprint in the night,” but it did jolt me awake.
In the wee hours, I didn’t want to awaken my husband, so I turned on only a small bathroom light. Then, washing my hands at the double sink, darkness surrounding me except for the soft glow off to my right, I saw it: a tiny handprint on the large mirror.
It was my granddaughter Charlotte’s hand, the oils from her tiny palm and fingers marking what in the daylight, or with all the lights on, looked to be a perfectly clean mirror.
Charlotte, at 14 months old, visited at Christmas. She delights in her own image, so one day I stood her on the large bathroom vanity and let her take in her entire body. Apparently, she braced her hand against the mirror producing an imprint virtually invisible to the naked eye.
Since Charlotte lives hundreds of miles from me, that imprint felt like a gift in the night. When I set up the conditions necessary for my husband to see the print, he joked that I’ll never wash the mirror again. I am, after all, the woman who saved my first child’s first booger — well, at least for a few days — and I still have a box of baby teeth in my dresser.
The imprint of Charlotte’s hand is fading now, but it continues to remind me that all around me are the handprints of God, which I cannot always see except under the best conditions. God’s presence is a constant, but recognizing that presence is dependent on my willingness to make those conditions possible, my willingness to be mindful.
We need to look for God’s handprints and we have to be prepared for surprises. How often, I wonder, does God leave handprints, but I’m too busy or too self-absorbed to see?
St. Ignatius of Loyola gave us a great method of sensing God’s presence in the feelings and events we experience each day.
It’s called the examen, and he told his Jesuits, who are encouraged to use it twice daily, that it was the most necessary of prayers.
What’s the examen? It’s simply the habit of taking a few minutes, perhaps in the morning, and placing yourself in silence before God. Going back over the previous day, recall what delighted you, what events deflated you, what you were pleased with about your own behavior and how you disappointed yourself by your actions. Ask God to let you see where God was in all those emotions and actions.
The examen forces us to confront our feelings. Many times, we don’t believe that our feelings are important to our spiritual growth. But actually, they’re vital to seeing God’s handprint.
Recently, I prayed over a feeling of emptiness. I had not been accepted for a job for which I’d applied and I was feeling down. But as I really examined my feelings, it became apparent that it wasn’t the loss of the job I regretted. I’m not sure I looked forward to that job. What was bringing me down was a feeling of rejection.
I don’t deal well with rejection. St. Ignatius warns us about the dangers of pride and of earthly success, but often I measure myself using those false standards. When I recognized that was where my feelings originated, I felt relief.
Looking at things more honestly, I suddenly saw doors opening instead of closing. The examen is a great Lenten practice. You may be surprised at the mysterious handprints you discover as you pray it.