Sunday 13 August 2023

Praying the Ignatian Examen

Recently our church had two weeks of prayer and fasting, where we were encouraged to spend time in repentance and in doing things that helped us grow closer to God.

I've been working through a book called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything off and on for about two years now, and have been taken by the idea of doing the daily Examen the Jesuits do.  So I decided this was a good time to give it a go!

It's basically a set of five questions to help you reflect on your day.  The questions are summarised in the image below.


To help me understand what the process is getting at I used this article, which had the five questions written out, and followed each with a few paragraphs reflecting on how you might go about answering the questions.

I've found it really helpful.  The first part of the examen, where you're encouraged to think of things to thank God for, has also been really positive.  As a result of the practise I've been much more aware of the many gifts there are in every day.  The gift I've found I've been grateful for most often is one I don't often think about, but which is really huge: the simple ability to talk to God.  That's quite amazing!

When it came to the third question, which is the heart of the process, I altered it in one important respect.  For this, you're encouraged to mentally go through your whole day, thinking about what you did and why, and asking God to help you identify where those actions/thoughts/intentions were sinful.  For myself, I found it more fruitful to think through my day until I came across something sinful (especially something that I hadn't previously thought of that way) and take a decent amount of time thinking about what had led to that thing, rather than trying to catalogue everything.

One big thing that came out of the process for me, was realising how often I think negatively of other people.  Stuff like, when I'm telling a story, how often I'll illustrate it with something someone else did badly.  Or, if I'm noting something someone did well, I'll often note how good that is, because this other time they'd done something much less well.... and that second part rarely adds anything useful :-(

That third question also led to me noticing how often I engage in deficit-based thinking when I think about others.

I first came across the idea of deficit-based thinking from Inspiring Communities, where they're talking about it in a development context.  They advocate, for example, thinking of a community as one where people are rich in time, rather than seeing it as a community with high unemployment.  For me it comes out when I really focus on what my friend is struggling with and how I can help them with that, rather than noticing what they do well and thinking about how I can learn from that.  It's a way of thinking about people that likely leaves us both the poorer.

These two related 'noticings' have been really helpful.  In particular, as I became more aware of the ways I was tending to think and act, it became easier to recognise where I was heading before I got there. I felt my behaviour and thinking noticeably changing over those two weeks.

So it's been a very fruitful process!  I'm not currently thinking to carry it on daily, but I'm probably going to add it into my weekly Sabbath observance.

If you'd like to give it a go, there are a bunch of other resources to get you started here.

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