Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Daily Examen (Book Reviews)

Since the Ignatian Prayer Adventure for Lent (see previous post) begins tomorrow, this is an appropriate time to mention a couple of books that do a wonderful job of presenting a crucial spiritual practice that many people refer to, as the first title indicates, as life-changing: the examination of consciousness.  

I have to admit to being lax and erratic in this prayer practice myself, which is why I was grateful when my friend Wayne brought the Jim Manney book back to my attention a few weeks ago.  It's on my Kindle, I'd already read it . . . but for some reason the timing for renewal was just right.  And now Law and Gospel has returned from retreat with a review of the second book.  So, OK: you have my attention.

Most often referred to in the past as the examen of conscience, implying that at its heart is a look at matters of conscience, i.e., sin,  the examen has been re-thought and re-imagined in the past several years as the examen of consciousness, meaning:  It's a way by which we become conscious of how God has been present in our days, of when and where we have been close to God, been moving toward God, been aware of God, and when and where not.  In Ignatian terms, it's a way of becoming aware of God in all things.

The practice itself is simple, although different folks tend to emphasize different aspects.  Essentially, it incorporates a prayer to move into God's light, an expression of gratitude, a look at the events of the day, and a plea for help with what's coming tomorrow.  There is good reason to do it at the end of the day, but any time that works will do.  And while the formal examen itself might take no more than ten minutes, a daily practice is likely to result in a growth in examen-type awareness throughout the day.

Jim Manney's book has more of an instructional bent; the Linn book is more experiential and anecdotal.  They compliment one another well, and both are short, meaning that they are quick reads and easy to refer back to.

The Linns point out that "the criteria for hearing the voice of God, as Ignatius did, is not holiness, but rather the willingness to become aware."  If you've wondered about a more contemplative approach to prayer, about how to pray in a way that involves more in the way of looking and listening than speaking and imploring, the examen is a good place to start.

(And if you'd prefer an article over a book as a starting point, "Rummaging Backward Through Your Day" is another excellent introduction to this little but powerful practice.)


  1. I always thought "Sleeping with Bread" was an easy way to get into this practice. Now I am going to look at the article!

  2. The Catholic church has many gifts like Ignatius's Examen. These include but are not limited to Lectio Divina, the Stations of the Cross, Gregorian Chanting, and many many more!