Editor’s note: We continue our series exploring each of the steps of the Examen. We’re using the Examen version from Jim Manney’s book, A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer. We’ll look at a different step each week.
2. Give thanks.
In his book, A Simple, Life Changing Prayer, Jim Manney summarizes the second step of the Examen this way: “Give thanks. The day I have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it.”
While one can never go wrong with gratitude, in the context of the Examen gratitude is more than saying “thank you” in appreciation. Here are a few things to remember about gratitude in the Examen.
- Its endpoint is always the greater glory of God (AMDG). This is a gratitude steeped in the Ignatian concept of magis—gratitude and more. We are called to notice the gifts of our days in the context of the sacred.
- It’s relational. Examen-gratitude takes place in the context of a specific relationship—the relationship between God and human. More specifically, it’s the relationship between the Divine Lover and the beloved (us). It is a gratitude that presupposes God’s continuous life-breath of love and our response to that love.
- It demands presence. Gratitude in the context of the Examen calls us to be attentive to the gifts that God has placed in our path over the past 24 hours. God knows what we need and enjoy. Perhaps that is warm sun on the face, gentle wind on the back, a compliment from a friend, encouragement from a co-worker, a warm cup of coffee, or all kinds of other good things. Yet, in our haste, we often miss these gifts that are right in front of us. The Examen calls us to presence so that we can recognize the gifts.
- It encourages reflection. Through the Examen, St. Ignatius invites us to take a step back every day and ask for the grace to see with new eyes. With God’s help and our own reflective posture, we become more able to recognize the gifts.
- It puts a stop to negative cycles. In his wisdom, St. Ignatius recognized that certain thought patterns hold us back from recognizing God’s gifts. How many times can we recall saying, “I will be happy when I reach this goal, finish this project, this or that situation changes, or when I’m a better person, better pray-er, etc.”? This way of thinking leaves us feeling unsettled and unfulfilled. The Examen encourages us to focus on and cultivate gratitude for the blessings we have in the here-and-now.
- It’s not enough, but is enough. When we become attentive to God’s overwhelming generosity throughout our days, gratitude blossoms in our hearts. We realize that no amount of thanks would ever be sufficient to acknowledge the abundance of gifts that spring forth from God’s love for us. And though we sense our own insufficiency, knowledge of this love gives rise to a true and satisfying joy and the sense that our gratitude is enough and does bring joy to the Giver.
- It is hope-filled. Most fundamentally, gratitude is the profound feeling that arises when we recognize and respond to the revelation that we are God’s beloved. The Examen is a daily check-in—a conversation—with our Beloved that gives rise to a gratitude that propels us forward. Rooted in this loving relationship, we look forward in hope.
In our haste, we often miss these gifts that are right in front of us. The Examen calls us to presence so that we can recognize the gifts.
Daily practice of the Examen teaches us how to be open to and aware of God’s continuous loving presence in our lives. It teaches us that God doesn’t wait for us to finish everything or for everything to be perfect. God is present in the good times and the in-between times, in the imperfection, and in the messes—bestowing gifts on us every day. This recognition gives way to the gratitude of the Examen.