A key feature of Rock Recovery’s treatment group each week is the check-in: after eating dinner together, the clients go around the table and each share a high and a low from the previous week. I am consistently moved by the clients’ honesty in their sharing, and even more by the way support each other. They celebrate each other’s highs and encourage each other in their lows. They help each other make connections from what was shared in past weeks to what is shared this week. They remind each other that the recovery journey can be bumpy, but progress is real and freedom is possible.
This check-in process—the identifying of highs and lows—bears a strong resemblance to an ancient Christian spiritual practice called the examen (or “examination of consciousness”). Created by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the examen (pronounced like “examine”) is a way to increase our awareness of God’s presence and invitations in our daily lives. Where is God inviting us to move toward freedom, love, and abundance of life for ourselves and others? Where are we feeling the pull to move away from those things? In the language of the examen, the former are called “consolations,” and the latter are called “desolations.”
The examen is simple, something you can do each day in just a few moments:
- First, find a quiet place where you can reflect, and then quiet your mind and your heart (some deep breathing can help with this). Remember that God is with you and God loves you.
- Second, review your day in your mind, noticing what comes to your attention.
- Third, identify the consolation and desolation of your day. The simplest way to do this is to ask yourself a set of two questions, such as:
- What was I most grateful for today (consolation)? What was I least grateful for (desolation)?
- When did I give and receive the most love today (consolation)? When did I give and receive the least love today (desolation)?
- What gave me the most life today (consolation)? What took the most life from me today (desolation)?
- When did I have the deepest sense of connection to God, others, and myself today (consolation)? When did I have the least sense of connection (desolation)?
- Where was I aware of the presence of the fruit of the Spirit* in my life today (consolation)? When was I aware of its absence (desolation)?
- Finally, give thanks for what God has shown you in your reflection. Consider whether today’s consolation and desolation might hold an invitation for you for how you want to experience tomorrow.
As you practice the examen over time, you will likely notice themes—experiences or situations that are frequently the source of your consolations or your desolations. Paying attention to those themes can help you can make decisions (about work, relationships, how you spend your time and your resources) that move you more and more in the direction of freedom, love, and abundance of life for ourselves and others–decisions that move you more and more toward God.
Is the spiritual “check-in” of the examen a practice that might help you move deeper into your life with God?
*The “fruit of the Spirit” is a term from the New Testament; described in Galatians 5:22-23, it includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Sources: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, IVP Books 2005. “The Daily Examen,” http://jesuits.org/spirituality?PAGE=DTN-20130520125910.
Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.