I've chosen to do the Examen during the month of September particularly because the children in our church will be introduced to this practice in their group gathering time. If I'm asking someone else to do something, it's only fair that I try to do it as well. It will be an exercise of learning to pay attention during the week, being reminded of God`s love when we are both joyful and sad, and an opportunity to learn to share our own encounters with God in a small group.
My favourite resource for exploring the Examen is called Sleeping with Bread: Holding what gives you life. I really appreciate how simply and clearly it lays out the practice in it's opening paragraph:
For many years, we have ended each day the same way. We light a candle, become aware of God's loving presence, and take about five minutes of quiet while we each ask ourselves two questions. For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful? (5-6)As I've taught this practice to children, I've found many are familiar with something similar called highs and lows. A time for families to name a high and a low from each day while seated around the dinner table or before bed. This exercise is quite similar to the Examen which is an ancient spiritual practice developed by St. Ignatius in the 16th century. The Examen however, invites us to consider those highs and lows in the context of God's loving presence in all aspects of our lives.
I love that the Examen is flexible and can be used to look back over a day, a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime. The questions that are asked can take many forms, though all with the same impulse.
When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the least love today
When did I feel most alive today? When did I most feel life draining out of me?
When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the universe? When did I have the least sense of belonging? (7)Asking these questions can help us to cultivate gratitude, identify small indicators that we might easily pass by when making larger decisions, identify God's presence and activity in our daily lives, and get in touch with our purpose in life as a whole.
I feel grateful for the opportunity to pay attention in this way, particularly because I have a tendency to find the glass half-empty. One of my gifts/curses is that I'm an evaluative person and years as a figure skating judge, student, and more recently an editor have trained me to identify miniscule problems and areas that could be improved. It it often the case that I approach my own life, in all its aspects, with the same analytical eye which leads me to see all that is weak and in need of improvement (perfectionism anyone?). The Examen is an excellent practice for perfectionists and pessimists who need to practice identifying what is good and beautiful, just as it's an excellent practice for those who are resistant to addressing their own inner pain.
Again, feel free to join me on this month long journey, I'd love to hear your reflections on these practices as well. :)