This idea came to me this afternoon as I was reflecting on the practice of church life, having just written a long piece about leadership and mission in the church.
You can consider this post a companion piece to this one, then.
It was undoubtedly inspired by some time I spent with this book on Ignatian practice at the book store the other day. You may be wondering why I never mention God. The reason is that when I had this idea given to me “out of the blue,” (or by Spirit, or the Muse) it did not come with any mention of God’s purpose for the church. I think that every congregation should be in discernment about their holy calling — their purpose for being. However, this examen is not an attempt to do that. It is an exercise intended to help individual members or participants in the community re-connect with, and become conscious of, their own purpose in being there.
In the season of examen, every member of the community is first asked to spend some time every day reflecting on this question:
What is my important reason for me to be part of this community?
The word “important” is central. When you identify your important reason, ask the same question again of that reason: ie, “What is important about that important reason?” Keep going deeper. Listen for the deeper truths. Accept what comes without judgment. Be as honest as you dare to be. No one need know your important reasons, but it is imperative that you know them and that they are brought to your consciousness so that you can begin to be responsible for them.
Rumi said “If you are here unfaithfully with us, you are doing great damage.” If your examen uncovers destructive or ego-driven reasons for being in the community, consider that important and helpful information. These are human tendencies. We can work on these things. Those who discover unpleasant information about their own hearts during examen may choose to enter into spiritual direction for help. Doing this as a community means that we are all supporting each other in being present to our truth.
After the community has spent their determined amount of time in prayer and reflection on the first question, they enter into a time of reflection on the second question:
Knowing my important reason for being part of this community, what do I now understand about the role I have chosen to take within the community?
In this part of the examen, we identify the role we have taken on for that time or season. Perhaps we are the Visionary. Perhaps we are the Agitator, or the Healer, or the Worker Bee, or the Gatekeeper. The community should not attempt to create a list of roles but rather leave it to the creative minds of the congregation and the holy spirit to communicate those in whatever way seems appropriate for the individuals. Some people may use language from Jungian archetypal psychology, others from Scripture, others from the Twelve-Step program, others from Greek drama. It doesn’t matter. Each individual will understand the language they choose.
Again, we are working to bring to consciousness our reasons for affiliating with the community, and now to understand the roles we have taken on within it.
Once we have taken some time to consider this question, we move to the third question which has two parts:
Knowing my important reason for belonging to this community, and understanding the role the role that I have chosen to take within it, (1) how do I see myself in harmony with others in the community who have their own important reasons for belonging? (2) How do I see that I may a source of conflict or interference with others who have their own important reasons for belonging?
Our prayer in this time of the examen is to become more aware of the ways that our presence within the body of the church interacts with and influences all the other parts of the body. Where do we contribute to health? Where might we be experienced as a source of dis-ease for parts of the body? Again, the goal is spiritual awareness, not to anticipate problems or conflicts or to provoke anxiety or guilt.
Conclusion and Re-Covenanting
As the community concludes the period of examen, they engage in some kind of sharing of their process, perhaps through small groups, a written manual, or within a worship setting.
The congregation honors its work and re-covenants in some meaningful way. This might be a good time for the renewal of baptismal vows.
The point of doing this examen every year is that the questions and awareness that come with asking them become woven into the fabric of everyday life in the congregation.
The worship life of the congregation should focus on examen themes, and newcomers might be invited to discuss their “important reason” with the pastor in a small group setting. It’s a perfect season for welcoming new members.
– Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein
Please use as you like and adapt to your purposes.