A Special Check-in – Beyond Food to Spiritual Fullness

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.

cookies-and-flowersThis 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 headshot (1)

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.


Grace As Unearned Love

“Grace…is unearned love.”

That was the statement—part of a quote from Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies—that caught the attention of several of Rock Recovery’s clients at a recent group session. “I don’t think I ever really knew what ‘grace’ meant,” said one client. Another marveled at the idea that there really might be love available that didn’t have to be earned.

That evening, I was leading the clients through a version of a practice called lectio divina, or “divine reading.” Lectio divina is a way of reflectively meditating on scripture that traces its roots back to St. Benedict in the 6th century CE. Because Rock Recovery serves clients of many faith traditions, we used the practice to reflect on a text that didn’t come from the bible but that spoke to longing we all experience for the freedom that comes from being loved just as we are.

As a Christian organization, Rock Recovery includes among its core values the conviction that faith is the foundation for complete freedom from disordered eating. As chaplain, my role is to support clients in integrating their faith into their recovery journey. I believe that the path to freedom wends its way through some of the deepest questions that we all ask—questions about identity, purpose, and where our worth and value come from. Through group activities and discussions, individual conversations, and prayer, it’s my privilege to walk with clients as they wrestle with those questions and celebrate with them as they begin to glimpse the answers.

“Grace…is unearned love,” Lamott writes. And here’s the rest of the quote that we reflected on that evening:

[It’s] the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

This captures so much of my heart for all of the Rock Recovery community, clients and partners alike. I pray that all of us would experience more and more grace—the unearned love of God that lifts us out of our isolation and restores us to the community of broken, beautiful people living in joyful dependence on the God who rescues, restores, and delights in us.

erin headshot (1)

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.


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