Presence. Attention. Sacredness. Gift.
We need these in our lives. They are forms of prayer that connect us to the holy.
This week I am thrilled to share with you an abundance of gifts for your practice of prayer. While planning an episode about the spiritual practice of Examen, I decided to reach out to some friends. I hoped maybe the group of women authors would yield one or two writers who knew something about the spiritual practice founded by Ignatius of Loyola. I was overwhelmed by the responses to my query. Apparently Examen is wildly helpful to ministers, people of faith, children, and non-affiliated spiritual folx everywhere!
In this week’s video, learn how questions of examen helps mentors and ministers reflect on the gifts of their relationship.
In Chapter 25 of Pastoral Imagination; Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life, I describe some of the many gifts of the Examen for our lives. “Examen also invites us to test our experiences from the past as well as our plans and visions for the future of our practice of ministry. In each examination, we can ask how the past or future situation brings consolation or desolation, giving us hints about how to move forward. Examen is also useful … as a spiritual approach to exploring the value and meaning of mentoring relationships.”
Today I have the joy of sharing with you resources about the practice of Examen from storytellers, priests, journalists, and spiritual writers. Each woman featured below has published books and/or articles that will enrich your understanding and practice of the Examen. Enjoy and drink deeply from this fountain of spiritual waters.
Shemaiah Gonzalez thrives in moments where storytelling, art, literature, and faith collide. She earned degrees in English Literature (BA) , Intercultural Ministry (MAPS) and Creative Non-Fiction (MFA). She is a Los Angeles native, and currently she lives in Seattle with her husband and their two sons. She’s a contributor to the website Ignatian Spirituality.
3MMM: What about the examen has changed your way of noticing?
SG: As the Examen becomes part of my life, I began to see God’s presence in the moment, instead of just in hindsight. I now see God’s presence in moments like my quiet afternoon walk, in the lunchtime conversation with my sons, and in the good work I finished
3MMM: How did you begin writing for the website Ignatian Spirituality?
SG: Several years The editor for the site, Denise Gorss, noticed some of my work for Busted Halo and on my personal blog, and then she featured it on the website. I noticed and asked her if I could write for Ignatian Spirituality too.
Read one of Shemaiah’s pieces on the Examen, “The Light of Grace Is Always Shining.” You can follow her work here:
Jerusalem Greer is a writer, speaker, and lay Episcopal minister (in fact for her day job she works for Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry who preached the sermon at a rather famous royal wedding.) Jerusalem has authored two books, A Homemade Year (a book about living a liturgical life at home), and At Home in this Life (a Benedictine-inspired memoir), and a host of faith curriculums. With her husband Nathan, she has two sons ages 16 and 20, together they live on a hobby farm in rural Arkansas where they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
3MMM: How has the spiritual exercise of Examen been significant to you?
JG: I stumbled across the Examen about a decade ago, when I was first really discovering ancient spiritual practices for myself. I was exploring things like the Daily Offices and Contemplative Prayer. My need was for practices that could steady my swirling-creative mind and the chaotic reality of raising small children and working multiple jobs. I needed to be rooted in God in the present moment. First, the Liturgical Calendar really held me. Then later, when my kids were much bigger, the Examen came to the forefront of my practice.
There came a time when I needed to find a healthy way to acknowledge both the good and the hard things in my life. And in the world at large. I needed a way to hold both heartbreak and beauty in the same hand, and feel God’s presence between them. That is when I returned to the Examen as a more regular practice. And it is when I wrote my more in depth blog post, Praying The Examen – A Simply Sacred Everyday Practice.” And I created a prayer card that folks can download for free.
Follow Jerusalem Greer’s simply sacred everyday writing and practice:
Erin Robinson Hall
Rev. Dr. Erin Robinson Hall is a minister, blogger, mom of four, and director of media and engagement for Three Minute Ministry Mentor. She is also host and curator of the Glass Half Full Podcast.
3MMM: What can you tell us about Examen for children?
ERH: Examen has long been a practice of mine. It tethers me to something true, rather than what I haven’t checked off for the day. With four little ones, I find that examen is a moment to appreciate. It helps me look away from my checklist and take account of how I have been present. Recently, I’ve had a whole new appreciation of Examen. My children experienced the Examen as we visited our friends in Dallas, Texas at Wilshire Baptist Church.
This dear church offered Compassion Camp for their VBS week. It is a program of Illustrated Children’s Ministry. I love that the church invited the children to begin their worship time together with examen. My older two children, age 8 and 9, joined their friends in the chapel and listened as the camp pastors asked them simple questions for reflection.
The question that really got them thinking was: “How were you kind to someone today?” It is a question I want them to be able to answer. I know that it enlivens their spiritual imagination to pause and ask good questions for introspection. They brought home glittery rocks and hand print crafts from this camp, they sang songs at the top of their voices. But the practice of pausing and asking questions to look inward is something that I hope will steer their spiritual journeys.
Join the conversations that Erin is curating:
Her first book, Blessed Are the Nones: Mixed Faith Marriage and My Search for Spiritual Community, was released in September 2020.
3MMM: How did the practice of Examen become significant in your life?
SKC: When my husband Josh deconverted from Christianity a few years after we got married, we struggled to find a common spiritual practice. Surprisingly, the Examen was one of the few prayers that we held onto together as a Christian-agnostic couple. You don’t need to be a Christian to reflect on where you experienced joy or sorrow at the end of the day, and it is a powerful tool for connection.
In my spiritual memoir Blessed Are the Nones, I tell the story of what happened to my faith after Josh left the church, and I started hanging out with Catholic nuns. In the book, I have a chapter titled “Fellow Pilgrims” which tells the story of how the Examen prayer became a practice my whole family embraced regardless of religious affiliation or belief. You can read chapter one “The Fallout” from Stina’s book Blessed are the Nones.
Keep up with Stina’s writing and social posts here:
Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day. She is the author of All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World (NavPress 2019) and Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017) which was an ECPA finalist for New Author. Catherine’s third book Fearing Bravely: Risking Love for our Neighbors, Strangers, and Enemies will be out in early 2022.
3MMM: Why is the practice of Examen significant to you?
CM: My goal as a writer–and human!–is to remind myself and others that God is right here. Always. In beauty and sorrow, in joy and in pain, God is already here. There is nothing we need to do to convince God to come to us, to love us…but we forget to open our eyes and open our hands and receive. The Examen is such a simple practice that helps us remember. I can practice the Examen alone or with family, in the car or at my desk, outside in the forest or shopping at Costco… and God is already in all those places! In practicing the Examen, my eyes learn to see what is already there. In All Shall Be Well, Catherine walks readers through the Examen to guide them in seeing the presence of God everywhere and all around.
Find Catherine’s books on her Amazon author page. And follow her here:
Kaya Oakes is the author of four books and teaches writing at UC Berkeley. Her fifth book, The Defiant Middle, will be released in November 2021.
3MMM: Why is the spiritual exercise of examen significant to you?
KO: I was first introduced to the Examen while on a retreat with Jesuits a decade or so back. It’s a useful prayer because it’s essentially the same mental review as keeping a journal or recapping your day with a friend. So one reason I value it is because it’s so accessible to people who might not find typically structured prayer practices helpful.
I wrote “Why non-Christian ‘seekers’ are trying spiritual direction” for America magazine a couple of years ago. It explores how “Nones” and religious seekers can use spiritual direction, including the Examen, to help ground them and to help with reflection. I’m also always looking for ways to write about things that bring the secular and sacred together, and this felt like a good example of that.
You can pre-order Kaya Oakes’ book The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-Betweens to Remake the World, and follow her here:
Rev. Rachel Twigg
Rachel Twigg is a writer, spiritual director, retreat guide and priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. When she’s not working she can often be found drinking coffee, walking her dog, or doing both at the same time.
3MMM: Why is examen important to you?
RT: The examen is a short simple prayer that forces me to slow down and actually remember my day. It helps me identify patterns and make changes when changes are needed. It has also allowed me to deepen in my practice of gratitude. And it allows me to remember things I am grateful for by helping me feel that gratitude. This is worlds better than simply rushing on to my next task.
Rev. Twigg will be leading a retreat that uses the spiritual exercises of examen in October and November. Join her for “Dear God: What a Year! What do I do now?”
Invitation: Join a group of companions on four Tuesday nights to reflect on our experiences of the recent past and hopes for the near future using the Awareness Examen as our guide. The Examen is a deceptively simple prayer that invites you to reflect on your life by identifying the highs and lows of a specific period of time (a day, an event, a pandemic, etc.). People who are new to the practice often say, “That’s it? That’s so easy!” And then they express amazement at what is revealed through consistent practice. The Fall Retreat meets online.
You can keep up with Rev. Rachel Twigg here:
This well of resources is indeed deep. And I am grateful for these gifts for prayer, discernment and seeing the holy in everyday life. Blessings and peace, friends!