Examen

It’s dinner time.

The babies are finally sleeping, and I’ve somehow managed to get dinner made and onto the table. Every day, this feels like a bit of a miracle.

We gather around the table, Jack, Jane, Doug, and I.

I light the match and hand it to Jane. She lights the candle. It’s Lent, so the candle is purple (the liturgical color for repentance), and I say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Then we all chorus together, “And renew a right spirit within me.”

We hold hands around the table and Jane says grace. After her “amen,” we pass the food and start eating.

“Highlight, lowlight!” Jane says. “Dada first.”

We go around the table and each of us shares the highlight of our day – and the lowlight.

What we’re doing is actually a centuries-old Christian practice called the examen, modified slightly so the kids can understand. We’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. When guests come, we invite them to join us.

The purpose of the examen is to cultivate awareness of God’s presence with us. By reflecting on the day, we have a chance to see where we sensed God’s presence – and where we didn’t.

One of the traditional ways of asking the two examen questions is, Where did I sense God most today? Where did I sense God least? But many people (myself included) often don’t have a “sense” of God…at least till they’ve been practicing the examen for awhile.

So I find it more helpful to ask, For what am I most grateful today? For what am I least grateful? That’s what we ask our kids when they get stuck and can’t think of a “highlight” or a “lowlight.”

Our nightly practice of the examen around our dinner table helps Doug and me to recognize the gifts in our lives and to be more aware of God’s presence with us. It also helps our kids reflect on their lives, to be grateful, and to notice what they like and don’t like, which helps them discover who they are.

The examen also creates a rich tradition for our family of listening and being heard, which is, I hope, helping all of us learn how to hear and speak not just to one another but to God as well.

*****

For a lovely introduction to the examen, take a look at Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn,  and Matthew Linn.

And here’s a brief sketch of practicing the examen with children.

This post is part of a Lenten series on spiritual practices that cultivate attentiveness to the presence of God.

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  • Conchita

    Wonderful! Our children are older now, but we can still do it when some of us or all of us are around the table and at the time of grace. Many thanks!

  • http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/ Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Thanks for stopping by, Conchita! The examen is a wonderful dinner time conversation starter, as well as simply a chance to celebrate and give thanks together, and support and sympathize with one another. I hope it blesses you and yours next time you gather round your table.