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In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urged that all be taught the examen, a daily examination of our deepest feelings and desires. He called these feelings our consolations (what connects us with God, others and ourselves) and desolations (what disconnects us). He believed that God would speak to us through these feelings and desires. It's not surprising that this saint felt so strongly about the examen -- this prayer practice changed him from a wild soldier to a pilgrim walking barefoot to Jerusalem.
The examen helps us:
• Acknowledge sad or painful feelings and hear how God is speaking to us through them.
• Overcome a pessimistic outlook by encouraging us notice the good in each day.
• Tell the truth about who we truly are and what we need, rather than who we think we should be.
• Become aware of seemingly insignificant moments that ultimately can give direction for our lives.
Preparation: You may wish to light a candle. Do whatever helps you to experience God's loving presence with you. Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in God's love, and when you breathe out, fill the space around you with it.
The Examen Q&A
1. Is it better to do the examen alone or with others?
Either way is helpful, but sharing the examen with others gives us a chance to enter into one another's hearts. Not only do the moments we choose to speak about become more real and important to us, but so do the people with whom we share. Families with children find the examen process helps kids put into words the deep feelings within them.
2. Will this examen process keep me from making mistakes and wrong decisions?
The examen does have some safeguards built into it that can help us avoid mistakes and wrong decisions. For example, it gives us a process for reflecting upon our choices over time rather than acting hastily. Before making an important decision, we can watch for a pattern of consolation and desolation over many weeks, months or perhaps years.
However, as long as we are human nothing can guarantee that we will never make a mistake or a wrong decision. What the examen does do is allow mistakes and wrong decisions to become opportunities for learning and growth.
3. Why acknowledge and listen to our desolation? Shouldn't we just forget it and focus on the good?
We are naturally meant to be in touch with the story of our experience. However, many of us have learned to repress or deny what our desolation wants to say to us, through family background and through our culture that teaches us to avoid and deny pain. The examen is a way of relearning this skill, and if we do it each day we probably will get better at hearing what God is trying to say to us in our desolation.
Excerpted from SLEEPING WITH BREAD: Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, copyright © 1995. Used with permission of Paulist Press. www.paulistpress.com