The Examen; A Lenten Reflection

I don’t necessarily enjoy going to the doctor. There are times when I get sick, and I must go to the doctor so that I can feel better, but that doesn’t mean I like it. As I get older all the experts say I need to make regular appointments with my doctor for a physical examination. Not because I feel bad, but for preventative measures. When I’m sick it’s easy to understand why I need an examination; it’s when I’m not sick that I struggle making an appointment just for a check-up. No one really enjoys being examined by a doctor. It’s uncomfortable, and you feel vulnerable, especially when you take off your clothes and sit there in one of those paper-thin gowns. All to have a doctor–whom you really don’t know very well–come into the room, get up close and personal, and “examine” you…awkward!

So, what does an uncomfortable doctor’s visit have to do with Lent? Well, for thousands of years Christians have used the season of Lent as a time to allow Christ to examine their hearts and lives. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. It’s a 40-day time period (excluding Sundays) that’s meant for us to pause and reflect on and examine our ways of living. Have we adopted a habit or pattern of living that is not life giving? In the history of Christianity this is called sin. In many ways opening up our lives to be examined by Christ is frightening. Much like sitting there in the paper gown at the doctor’s office, you feel vulnerable talking about the ways in which you know you fall short. This is what makes following Jesus so difficult. Most of us “feel” fine and may not be aware of hidden behaviors and practices that lead us away from being able to love God with our whole hearts.

Ignatius of Loyola understood this as well and came up with a simple Spiritual Exercise called the Examen. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Order of the Jesuits in the 1500s. He wrote a famous book called Spiritual Exercises, a simple set of meditations, prayers, and other mental exercises. He founded the practice called the Examen. He practiced this simple prayer and meditation at lunch and at the end of the day:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward the next few hours or day.

Even though examining our ways of living may not be the most exciting thing we do, it can be a way to free us from unwanted patterns and practices of living. If we can name the ways we fall short, then we can begin to do something about them.

My prayer for you is that you would add this simple spiritual practice into your daily routine as a way to allow Christ to examine your life.

Grace & Peace,

Bryan