I just finished reading Jim Manney’s A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, a reflection and guide on praying “the daily examen.” Though the examen is an ancient practice, Manney writes about it within the context of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. (Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, an order of Catholic priests also known as the Jesuits, in the 16th century and the Spiritual Exercises was a practical guide instructing the Jesuits and others on how to experience the presence of God.) The examen itself is a method of prayer in which one reflects on the events and experiences of the day in order to detect God’s presence within them and therefore live with increased sensitivity to the movement of the God in one’s self and one’s life. If the examen is a “how to manual” on experiencing God, then Manney’s book is a how to manual on praying the examen.
I picked up this book because I have dabbled in Ignatian Spirituality for years and have recently desired to strengthen my practice of praying the examen. The examen, as a method of prayer, appeals to me for the same reasons that writing a blog and taking notes on books that I read appeal to me. At their core, all three activities are practices of attention and reflection. They are about taking notice of the stuff of the everyday, looking at it closely, and distilling meaning and guidance from it.
Manney writes that your content when praying the examen is everything that happened that day. “You might have the impression that your everyday life is the dreary same old, same old. It isn’t. Daily life is rich and meaningful. Every encounter, every challenge, every disappointment, and every delight is a place where God can be found” (16).
I couldn’t agree more. Life is jam-packed with meaning, and the moments that turn into minutes that turn into hours that turn into days are precious. I have a great fear of squandering the richness of these moments, these minutes, and these days. Praying the examen and taking notes on life are both ways for me to relish in the present moment and to remind myself that daily life is rich and meaningful.
The formatted nature of the examen adds structure that I find helpful in my prayer-life. I’m interested in experimenting with a more formatted structure in my note-taking-on-life-life, and since the intent of this blog is note-taking, I thought I would try it here. I’ve developed a list of questions aimed at sparking reflection and heightening attention to the rich and meaningful nature of daily life. My hope is to post on these questions month. If it begins to feel like too much, I’ll cut back, but for now, here goes!
What am I most grateful for this month? I was offered a job! What’s more — I think I will really like the job! After casting my net wide and applying to all kinds of positions in the past two months, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work in a position that speaks directly to my vocational passions and professional aspirations.
What am I least grateful for this month? I found myself being nit-picky and testy repeatedly throughout the past few weeks. I love being productive — working, reading, writing, cleaning, etc. — and I don’t necessarily handle downtime well. I’m not grateful for how I acted during these moments of downtime this past month.
What is something interesting that I read this past month? Many of the early-church documents establishing the rules and norms that were followed for centuries were forged.
What is a meaningful conversation that I had this month? I caught up with a dear high-school friend today. We’ve both gone through a lot of change recently and I loved hearing updates on her career-, dating-, home- and family-lives.
What is something new that I tried this month? I started a new work-out series this week, Kayla Itsines’ BBG. I did two twenty-eight minute workouts and WOW. Who knew that twenty-eight minutes could result in so many days of pain?
What is something that I learned this month? A line from Max Ehrman’s Desiderata (“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”) came to mind this past week when I saw a young man pull his car over on the side of a busy street and get out to help a confused, elderly man who was standing in the middle of the street. In that moment, I learned that it is still a beautiful world.
How did I progress on last month’s goal? N/A
What is a goal that I have for next month? Write something everyday. A grocery list doesn’t count. Full sentences are a must.