Monday, May 28, 2007

the daily examen - ignatian prayer

frequent reader and world traveler judi (no blog) has asked in a comment about what the examen is. i am not the expert here, but will attempt to do a bit of research and use my own take on this ancient practice.

here is a short history i was able to glean from the web:
St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in 1491 in northern Spain. He was the youngest of 13 children. As a young man, he served as a Page of the Treasurer of the castle, and loved wine, women and song! He was reported to be addicted to gambling and was described as contentious.

At the age of 30, Ignatius was wounded in battle defending Spain against France. During his long recuperation, he read about the life of Christ. He was drawn to Him and the profound effect Christ had on His followers. At the same time he was drawn to a noble lady he loved, and to fame and glory. As he reflected, he found that his daydreams of the woman resulted in feelings of restlessness while his reflections on Christ brought peace. This marked the beginning of his conversion. It also marked the beginning of his profound teaching on developing spiritual discernment through the examination of emotions, feelings and thoughts. Ignatius taught that the work of the spirit is revealed not just through the intellect. God is found in everything including our emotions and feelings.
i think my first introduction to the examen, or ignatian prayer, came about a decade ago through mike & mark yaconelli's "practicing the presence of god" critical concern course at the national youth workers convention. it sounded like a wonderful idea that i wasn't nearly "spiritual" enough to practice regularly. it always seemed like a special discipline reserved for really special people who had lots of time in their days to be spiritual (nuns and old people i guess??) i knew i never thought that i could really carve a place in my life where this could happen daily. (such an optimist...)

my next contact with the examen was angie york-crane and her blog "living at both ends - an exploration of best and worst" i don't know who linked to her years ago or how i found her words but i was drawn to them and quite soon found a kindred soul whose depth i have come to love dearly. reading her words has helped me understand the grit and grist that the examen can and should be. that busy moms and everyman can benefit from this daily practice. it left the monastery and entered the every day for me. i still didn't think i was disciplined enough for it, but i knew that it wasn't just for the chosen few anymore.

i think it was my spiritual director (who i only get to see once a year) beth from youth specialties who recommended "sleeping with bread" - it only took me three years to actually pick up the book. but i know it was timed perfectly to when i was actually ready to use this special tool to help me see the sacred in the everyday, to find god's love for me and the desires of my heart in the things i am already doing instead of the big dreams i have yet to dream and do.

commenter becca posted this yesterday:
Judi... examen, as my housemates and I practice it, is a time of reflecting on one's happenings in the last day, and pondering about what the "leastest" and "mostest" moments have been. There are no right or wrong ways of expressing this... It is excellent for creating openness about one's journey... and for recognising patterns that one may not be so conscious of... and then actively working towards betterment... and praying with and for each other...

We practice a variation of "examen". We use fairly broad, sweeping terms of our "leastest" and "mostest" for the day...
saddest - happiest
most confusing - most clarifying
"on the wrong path" - "journeying towards wholeness"
most frustrating - least frustrating
least friendship-building moment - most companion-edifying time
least sure of God - most aware of God
most afraid - most secure
most outraged - most amused...

the list is obviously expandable... find a word that describes a feeling, and then think about the antonym... actually, they don't even have to be antonyms... it is perfectly ok to have "most challenging" with "most hilarious"!
As a side note, we frequently find that certain happenings are *both* of our "mostest and leastest" for the day, which is mysterious and intriguing... for example, a while back I discovered some old photos of my lil' brother when he was a sweet-natured, happy-go-lucky kid... which is evidently a mostest... but this was juxtaposed with my knowledge of how utterly sad and hopeless he has been feeling in recent times... and thus my obvious leastest.
do share with us what you explore about examen if you do so...
thank you becca! i appreciate your addition to both judi's & my journey!

here is a link that explains another way to do the examen:

  1. Ask God to help you identify the moment today for which you are most grateful. Recall that moment in as much detail as possible. What made it so special? "For what moment today am I most grateful?"
  2. Ask God to help you identify the moment today for which you are least grateful. Recall that moment. What made it so difficult? "For what moment today am I least grateful?
  3. Follow this with "When did I feel most alive today? When did I most feel life draining out of me today?"
  4. Try to keep the Daily Examen as consistently as possible. At regular intervals look back over your journal entries.
  • What do you notice? Any patterns? Themes?
  • What might these writings be telling you about how God is speaking to you?
  • What do these writings suggest about your identity? Your purpose? Your direction?

here are some more links you can follow for more information:

An Examen - Review or Daily Review by the Canadian Jesuits
Ignatian Prayer
St. Ignatius - Spiritual Exercises


Anonymous said...

wow, i feel like i opened a flood gate! thanks, bobbie and becca for such a great explanation!

i'm not quite a world traveler, bobbie :-) but after 2 2week trips to africa and one to india (and a few more in the future, i think) i have discovered i love foreign travel! i do NOT want to live in either africa or india, but i sure do enjoy being there and interacting with fellow believers.
thanks for taking the time to write!

Rebecca said...

cool! thanks Bobbie, for including me in on the discussion! I "lost" my bookmark for this site in amongst all my other bookmarks... and have been too busy with Enviro Law assignments to keep up anyway.
May we continue to work towards truth and experimenting and sharing life...