Becoming Aware of God’s Presence through the Practice of Examen {The Grove – Examine}

**We interrupt this Grove to bring you an announcement: In the first week of our “Dream Big” Fund, we’ve raised $2,956! You all are amazing.  We’re already 21% of the way there.  

We are making a switch and will now be raising the remainder of our goal ($11,019) through Pure Charity.  You can see all the details and donate here.  This will allow everyone, including those with a non-U.S. billing address to give.  (We know many of you are not from the U.S. and want the opportunity to give.)  Thank you for Dreaming Big with Velvet Ashes.  Now, back to The Grove…**

 

The Prayer of Examen is a practice first developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It’s a staple in monastic life, a potential piece of a Rule of Life given to communion with God. Contemporary people I admire have a habit of examination – writers like Ed Cyzewski and Micha Boyett.

The Prayer of Examen is often guided by a set of questions to stir reflection. It is an inventory of the day made with gratitude in the presence of God. It’s most often a practice tailor-made for the evening, but it can be altered for any hour of the day.

The prayer begins with an acknowledgement of the loving presence of God. Then it moves over the events of the day, pausing over moments to witness God at work where we sensed him, and where we missed God. In those pauses, the prayer attends to the feelings we experienced around those events. Finally, it turns to conversing with God about the events and emotions we experienced, giving thanks and asking for forgiveness. It ends with an expression of gratitude for God’s presence and direction, and a request for moving forward.

The assumption is that God is always present, and the Spirit is always working good. The point is to become aware of God’s presence and life-giving work in our moments, making the ordinary sacred.

One pause from one Examen this week gave me this:

My first-grader and I make eye contact at pickup after school, and then I lose sight of him in the crowd. As I scan, my heart rate kicks up a notch, and I make sure my youngest is still beside me. I start pacing, scanning, and then the kid pops out from behind a bush. Gotcha! Good one, I’m laughing on the inside. Let’s go to the park.

My boys make contact with each other and immediately fall to what looks to me like shoving, teasing, picking, and bossing. They haven’t seen each other all day and they only have eyes for each other as they stumble, trip, and push their way through the crowd.

I’m corralling, correcting, apologizing, and my anxiety is about to ring the bell. A walk down picturesque Main Street on a gorgeous autumn day devolves into snapping at the kid I haven’t seen all day to stay out of the interesting shop, and if he snaps the nose off the gaudy adult-sized metal snowman and I have to pay for it, there’s no Christmas for any of us. We make it to the park.

Later as I pray the Examen, I realize that my anxiety grows from confusion. I don’t know what’s right. I want my boys to engage with their world and express their affection and curiosity, but for them that is intensely physical, and I can’t handle the risk it takes. I equally want them to be safe and sensitive to others. I simultaneously worry about crushing their wonder and the embarrassment of offense. I feel shame.

I don’t know how to parent both ways. There’s a tight tangle in the center of me where there should be breath instead.

In my chat with God about this event and my agitation, he shows me that I’ve grown slower to judge. The parent who doesn’t pull on the reins fast or hard enough. Or the one who pulls so hard so often I predict teenage rebellion in her future…and serves her right.

Maybe I’m learning to be less hard on myself, too.

I pray the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I ask God to craft me kind to myself, my kids, and others. I give thanks for a perfect autumn day, a school within walking distance, a park with ducks, and two dearly beloved wild little boys. I breathe. Amen.

Want to give it a whirl? Check out one of these free apps:

Abide has a set of four Examen Prayers that are guided audibly. Also available on the You Version Bible app as a plan from the Jesuits of Great Britain.

Examine is a step-by-step guide for daily use with a journaling option. It keeps a record of your entries.

Have you heard of the Examen before? What do you think of it? Have you prayed the Examen before? What was it like? Do you have a habit of Examen? When and how do you practice it? 

17 Comments

  1. Michele Womble November 19, 2015

    I had never heard of the Prayer of Examen… I do have a habit of examining as I have my times in the word in the mornings and pray and journal and “chat with God” (I like how you put that!)  about the coming day and yesterday  – but not quite like this.  And I usually don’t exactly examine “yesterday” unless something is already bothering me about it.  I like the idea of examining in the evening the day just gone by while it’s still fresh and vivid and real – and thinking through everything…thanks for the free App suggestions – I’m checking them out right now.

     

    Ps.  After I posted my link-up, I couldn’t get back to this page for a bit (page not available) and I was afraid I had killed it!  Glad to see that I didn’t. 🙂

    1. Kimberly Todd November 19, 2015

      Michele, it’s cool that there’s a discovery here that could expand a reflective habit you already have. And I’m glad your link-up and comment both came through!

  2. Kimberly Todd November 20, 2015

    Update: It looks like the Examine app is under construction and currently unavailable. I apologize for the dead end. If you were looking for it, I hope it will cross your path again when it’s available.

  3. Leslie Verner November 20, 2015

    Kim, I was so excited to see that you had written the article this week!  (And Patty, if you read this, I linked up an article on The Narrowing this week with you in mind–and quoted you;-)  ).

    I can totally relate to your story with your kids and all the emotions that play into simple interactions with them (and especially with boys–I am constantly wondering if the way I’m responding is because I want him to act like a girl!).  But I love the idea of making the ordinary sacred.  That is such a freeing thought when you feel like so much of what you do in a day can be categorized as “ordinary.”

    I’m looking forward to trying this out this week.  I am willing to try anything that helps put life right now into the proper perspective!

    Blessings on you, friend, as you draw closer to Jesus and live out all He has called you to in this chapter of your life;-)

    1. Kimberly Todd November 20, 2015

      Thanks, Leslie! It is an important idea, isn’t it, that our everyday ordinary is holy? I hope your week is full of sacred moments. Much love.

    2. Patty Stallings November 21, 2015

      Well, I’m feeling pretty special, Leslie!  I just read your post and love the growing wisdom and perspective your are nurturing and experiencing!

  4. Amy Young November 20, 2015

    Kimberly, I love this!! Thanks for modeling it. On a recent international flight I was delayed on the first leg by three hours … and I was stressed. As God helped me examine what was going on inside of me, He kept saying, “Amy, you are confusing a problem with a situation. This is not a problem, it will work out. This is an uncomfortable situation.”

    And that has become a new way I’m trying to look at things … I realize how, too often, my orientation to life is to see what happens as a “problem.” Sometimes it is, but not always. I’m thankful for practices like these that are helping me go deeper into the heart of God and where I need a bit of reorientation 🙂

    1. Kimberly Todd November 20, 2015

      Oh, that’s good. I’m going to borrow that. Thanks, Amy! And welcome back home from home. 🙂

      1. Patty Stallings November 21, 2015

        Ditto from me! 🙂

  5. Spring November 20, 2015

    As a parent i feel this myself. God often brings me back to who I am in him, and the fact that I’m not called to be someone else. It is difficult not to feel the pressure and shame the world tries to put on us.

    1. Kimberly Todd November 21, 2015

      I agree that the world can be brutal, but i find my biggest critic, especially in my parenting, lives in my head, and she’s a yappy one. Anyone else?

  6. Spring November 20, 2015

    haha did not mean to put that picture in there. Couldn’t delete it. sorry!!

    1. Kimberly Todd November 21, 2015

      I like the picture! It’s nice to have a face to go with your very cool name.

  7. Patty Stallings November 21, 2015

    There’s a tight tangle in the center of me where there should be breath instead.

    Kim, I wrote a long comment yesterday but it has mysteriously disappeared.  But I wanted to tell you how much I love this sentence – the descriptive way you’ve captured what unprocessed chunks of life produce in the soul.  I am in the midst of a long Sabbath project of “recounting my ways” (Psalm 119:26 I recounted my ways and You answered me.) The process is breathing His kindness and Presence into the tangled spaces – I just didn’t have the words yet to frame what was happening.  Thank you!

    1. Kimberly Todd November 21, 2015

      I’m sad your first comment was lost. Thanks for persevering. I like to hear from you, Patty. I’m glad there are words here that speak. Thanks for pointing them out. I hope you’ll be writing about your sabbath project. It sounds transformative.

  8. Melissa December 4, 2015

    I’ve spent so much time thinking on this topic. I knew I would miss the post time, but the topic has been so close to home for me. I’ve learned so much from the weekly topics and the book club book. I’ve been challenged and convicted to make little changes. Here is my post: https://ourlifeinaustria.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/the-grove-examine/

    1. Kimberly Todd December 4, 2015

      Melissa, I’m so glad you circled back when the time was right. It’s amazing to see how God is meeting you in this space called Velvet Ashes. Thank you for commenting and sharing your post with us.

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