“Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man that they might help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.”
I must confess that when it comes to the Catholic Church I am heavily biased. The Catholic Church and I had a bad break up when I was thirteen and we have been estranged ever since. We just haven’t figured out a way to remain friends. I attended a Jesuit high school and college and learned a lot about Ignatius. Ambivalence is the best word to describe my approach to Ignatian spirituality then and now. As I Protestant I cannot overlook the fact that the Jesuit order was brought into existence to counter the Protestant Reformation. Protestants were viewed as heretics and enemies and even today much military language remains in its charter. However, I have deep respect for Ignatius’ commitment to living simply and caring for the poor. And surprisingly I’ve found the daily examen, when it is adapted for our modern context, to be a very helpful tool in deepening one’s spirituality and tending to the soul.
For me the daily examen is not about focusing on sin or trying to overcome some fault; it’s about awareness and cultivating the capacity to look inward. This is so badly needed in our world today which often finds us always on the go and masking our dissatisfaction with activities on our calendars. The daily examen provides opportunity to pause, reflect and take in the day. To discern what has brought joy and what has not; to learn to see in such a way that is impossible unless one is still and silent even if for only a few moments. The examen is grounded within the Christian tradition, but has been adapted to speak to non-Christians as well. I believe it can be just as enriching to those outside theistic traditions.
The adaptations I am most drawn to are the ones that center on gratitude. The language of gratitude provides a framework for self-examination that is gentle, grace-filled and forgiving. This language speaks to theists and non-theists alike. This is very important to me as I don’t believe that spirituality only belongs to those who believe in God. I was led through one such adaptation of the examen. The actions were simple, but moving. Simply sitting still, breathing intentionally, placing my hand over my heart while bringing to mind what I was most grateful for during the day, brought me to a different place. And when I brought to mind what I was least grateful for I was able to face a difficult aspect of myself with much grace. I imagine doing this every day would lead to a blossoming of awareness, discernment, self-compassion and compassion for others as well.
Whether you are Catholic, a biased Protestant like me, or of a different faith or of no faith altogether, I invite you to try on the daily examen for yourself. Find an adaptation that speaks most clearly to your heart. Give it time and stick with the practice for a while. I believe you will soon find it to be a necessary component to furthering the spiritual journey of tending to the soul and living life well.