Praying with Anna Karenina: Tolstoy, Ignatian Prayer and Reviewing the Day

How to pray | Anna Karenina | Praying with Tolstoy

This quote is from “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. As explained in an earlier post, I am reading Tolstoy because he describes the human condition so well.

Today at church I taught on Ignatian prayer; a copy of the handout I compiled, summarising what I said, is available here.

A key part of the Ignatian Exercises is reviewing your day, to do this I answer five questions: What made me smile? What made me grimace? What am I ashamed of? What am I proud of? And what am I thankful for?

This excerpt from ‘Anna Karenina’ is an insightful description of how it feels to review one’s day in order to pinpoint anything that might be shameful and therefore needs to be talked over with God and forgiven. Anna is a married woman, with a son, and has experienced mutual attraction with a young man at a ball.

“What have I to be ashamed of?” she asked herself in injured surprise. She laid down the book and sank against the back of the chair, tightly gripping the paper cutter in both hands. There was nothing. She went over all her Moscow recollections. All were good, pleasant. She remembered the ball, remembered Vronsky and his face of slavish adoration, remembered all her conduct with him: there was nothing shameful. And for all that, at the same point in her memories, the feeling of shame was intensified, as though some inner voice, just at the point when she thought of Vronsky, were saying to her, “Warm, very warm, hot.” “Well, what is it?” she said to herself resolutely, shifting her seat in the lounge. “What does it mean? Am I afraid to look it straight in the face? Why, what is it? Can it be that between me and this officer boy there exist, or can exist, any other relations than such as are common with every acquaintance?”

I love how Tolstoy captures her feelings and the difference between what she has done, of which there is nothing to be ashamed of, and what she felt. Anna wants to avoid owning her feelings and so tries to hide from them, and attempts to justify herself, yet she knows somewhere deep down that her attraction to this man was wrong.  She questions herself, and doesn’t have all the answers to those questions.

This is exactly how I experience the review process, I hide from wrong feelings and thoughts, and if I do identify them, I try to justify them. Tolstoy was a genius at describing this process.

I can’t recommend Ignatian Prayer enough, please try it if you can, and Tolstoy is simply wonderful. Start reading Anna Karenina for free:

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