We have now had two masses at St Agnes at our new time of 4pm. Afterwards we have tea and cake followed by teaching. We ended each session with “Recollection”, a version of the Ignatian Examen.

This practice came out of St Ignatius’ own experience of the spiritual life. He had been badly injured in the Battle of Pamplona. Unable to put any weight on his shattered leg, Ignatius lay in his room for hours on end. He asked his sister-in-law for reading matter and was given a novel on the life of Christ and a book about the Saints. In between reading he used to daydream. Sometimes he daydreamed about acts of chivalry to win the favour of a lady; sometimes he daydreamed about following Christ in a gospel story or working with St Dominic or St Francis. As he did this he began to notice that, although he enjoyed the chivalrous musings, the feeling soon faded. However when he had thought about serving Christ or walking with the Saints he had a deep sense of peace that lasted long after the daydream. These different feelings began to give Ignatius clues as to the movements that were going within him, spiritually. What was drawing him close to God? What was pulling him away? What he had noticed, changed his life.

This “noticing” of spiritual movements became the practice of the Examen. Traditionally this is done at the end of a day but can be done at other times as well. It takes a very short time and can be done with children as well as adults, individually or in groups. The process begins by sifting through memories of the day. As this happens we look for different things. The questions we used in our group to help were “What have I been least grateful for?” “What am I most grateful for?” and “Where have I been aware of God’s presence?”

There are many different ways of doing the Examen. The most important thing is to develop an awareness of how God is working in my life and how I have responded.

Over the years, I have noticed that I often feel close to God when I am working at the allotment and I often feel far away from God when under pressure. I recognised this week that the stress of packing up the house had caused me to begin a downwards spiral, which had resulted in being very grumpy with God. So on Monday morning I forced myself down to the plot. In the quiet I remembered that in the mass the day before I had felt very close to God and knew deep down that being in this situation was the way in which He was going to make me more the person I am created to be.

It is early days in trying this out in a group but we have found, as a family, that something very simple can become very important.

If you want to find out more, a good book to get started is by Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Linn called “Sleeping with bread”. In this they describe how doing the Examen in many different ways and contexts has changed their relationship with God and their ministry. They offer different questions to frame the Examen. Their book “Making heart bread” is for use with children and helps parents make this practice part of  family life.