Reimagining the Ignatian Examen by Mark E. Thibodeaux


The Specs:
Title: Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day
Author: Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ
Published: 2014 by Loyola Press
Length: 123 pages
Amazon Categories: Meditations
Source: Overdrive (free); Kindle price: $8.79

 Every time I talk about Mark Thibodeaux’s book, I always get the title wrong but when I explain, I think you’ll understand why. While it’s true that the author reimagines the original examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola in a fresh way, after immersing in this book and its devotional exercises for prayer and meditation, I think you will find that it reignites your faith and prayer life. So, I wish on some level that the title was Reigniting the Ignatian Examen, because I think that the contents of this simple prayer has the potential to stir those coals in our hearts and reawaken the embers of our prayer lives. It certainly is rekindling mine.

The book isn’t terribly long for the price and that may be my biggest negative critique. I like a chunky book when I’m paying more than $2.99 for an ebook. But where Thibodeaux could have tripled the length of the book and bogged it down in unnecessarily long treatises on prayer and meditation, or on the background of St. Ignatius and the original examen, he chose to take a different approach.

The first few chapters talk about how he approaches the examen and on creating your own opening and closing ritual. The remainder of the book is thirty-four days of meditations/prayer with different subjects, building upon what you’ve previously gone over. Ideally, one for every day of the month, and a few extras in case one or two just didn’t click for you.

There is also an appendix where Thibodeaux talks about some of the terms he uses (like praydreaming and prayimagining), which helped me immensely as I began my own journey through the examen. For the sake of full disclosure, I am still working my way through the book and God willing, will continue to be doing the meditations for some time to come. Since the majority of the book is just the individual guided prayers/reflections, you’re better off reading them at the pace prescribed, rather than treating the book as something to be rushed through and checked off a list.

The author recommends beginning once a day and advancing to twice a day (at lunch, and at dinner) and when you reflect upon your day, you can reflect upon how your morning went, and how you expect the afternoon to go, and then at the evening examen, review how it actually went, and how you expect tomorrow morning to go. This idea of a daily review, or even a twice-daily review, can really be an excellent way of keeping God at the center of our focus.

The examen will prompt questions such as…

Are we really living each moment to please God? Where are we acting in the faith, hope and charity that all Christians should be? In what areas are we floundering? What can we learn about our mistakes and resolve to do differently the next time? What do we think that God is trying to tell us about this area in our lives (or the areas we are guided to by the reflections)?

If this sounds like something that you’d be interested in exploring, please check out Mark E. Thibodeaux’s book, and leave a comment below and let me know what you think.


The Book of Sirach

For a complete list of blog posts in the Journey Through The Word series, please click here.

Where Am I?

Following the book of Wisdom is the book of Sirach, and then we move into the prophets, with the book of Isaiah. In the Catholic Bible, there are a couple more book sin the OT that is mixed in with the prophets, the book of Baruch, and also a couple of chapters in the book of Daniel, which will be reviewed in a future post.


Initial Impressions

The book of Sirach feels like a conversation between someone sitting down with their mentor for some thoughtful wisdom on how to live. It reminds me of an etiquette manual in part, breaking down different life situations by category and detailing the writer’s advice for those circumstances.  It’s potentially the closest book (so far) in my readings that reminds me of a NT letter from Paul, as Paul was fond of giving the early church instructions on how to live, just as a father to his beloved children.

My copy includes a foreward (not divinely inspired) which explaims that the author of the book is Jesus, son of Eleazar, the son of Sirach. I suppose that it’s far more alliterative and less confusing not having two Jesuses in the Bible (is that even a plural? Can you pluralize Jesus?!) Moving quickly on, to summarize, it’s fifty-one chapters of maxims, some reminiscent of the book of Ecclesiasties, some of Proverbs, and a few that may just surprise you.

Favorite Passages

There were so many passages I underlined in this book — so full of treasures — it’s hard to know what to focus on. To mention a handful of sections, here are some questions by subject that I’ve created (and related verses) from the book of Sirach that may be of interest*:

  • What makes a real friend? (6:5-17; 11:29-34)
  • Does the Bible say anything about helping the deceased? (7:33)
  • How can I avoid being proud, but still have a healthy self-esteem? (10:27-28)
  • Does God design us to make our own choices? (14:11-20)
  • Why does my mom cry over the greeting card and not the gift? (18:15-16)

Another section, that may not be relevant to all, but I found interesting, was the cautioning of the writer of Sirach against poor men associating with wealthy men (chapter 13), which further broadens into a general discussion on wealth (chapter 14). In my personal experience, this is generally true.

In conclusion, the book of Sirach is full of treasures as I’ve begun to discover and I look forward to rereading it in future years as the Holy Spirit reveals different things to us each time, and in each season, as we make the time to read God’s Word. That’s why it behooves you to read the Bible often. I hope that you’ll enjoy exploring Sirach just as much as I did. Have any favorite passages? Leave a comment below to share.

*The Bible version I am studying is the New American Bible, Fireside Personal Study Edition, (2006-2007 edition) by Fireside Catholic Publishing. Some of my paraphrases are based on the NIV and NASB versions which I grew up with. Links provided to Bible chapters are from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, which has an online edition of the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE).

Letting Go: Loss and the Lesson of Suffering

“Let go.” For two small words, they sure pack a lot of meaning. To let go implies that we’ve obtained something and that we are actively holding on to it, with a fierce grip, determined. To let go requires our free will to cease the act of holding, to release, to let something be no longer in our thrall of control. To let go implies that there is a danger present, that once a thing is loosened, it may not return to us.

I’m thinking of various examples over the years where I’ve heard the phrase, “let go” and the versatility of its application.

Different Ways Life Calls Us To “Let Go”

The earliest memory I have of hearing these words, and perhaps also for you, was of two siblings or friends fighting over the same thing. Maybe a cookie or a toy. In my case, I remember fighting over the wishbone in a turkey one Thanksgiving with someone else my own age (a cousin, probably). We each wanted the other to ‘let go’ first, confident that we’d come away with the larger bit of wishbone and our wish would be guaranteed its future success. To let go first meant that we would likely suffer loss, as I’d been counselled by an uncle beforehand. But eventually, someone has to let go.

Then there’s that scary “letting go” that accompanies an adventure, like the time you first tried out that swing set and you’re preparing to leap off into the unknown. You’ve been pushed for a good head start, you’ve pumped your legs, you’re arcing through the air and there’s that hesitation, that moment of uncertainty of whether you should indeed, let go of the chains, and then you do and you’re sailing through the air to fall (hopefully) unharmed on a soft lawn. This type of loss includes emotions of doubt and of the unknown.

Watching movies as a teenager, I remember that pivotal moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indiana Jones urges Elsa to give him her other hand. But the decision to do so, although it will ensure her own safety, means letting go of her quest, to reach the holy grail which is almost within reach. And when Indiana is struck by the same urge, we hear Dr. Jones (Sean Connery) saying, “Indiana, let it go.” Letting go, in this case, meant letting go of the object, the final reward, of his epic quest, of his father’s lifelong quest. Forever. This type of loss of is one of professional ambition, the same we experience when a job doesn’t work out the way we’d intended to, and we are ‘let go’ — there’s those two powerful little words again that pack a painful punch.

As a young adult with a tender, eager heart, I had my first painful breakup and I cried and wailed and clung to that relationship, even though (in hindsight) it wasn’t God’s best for either of us. I had trouble with accepting this because it implied that I’d failed, that letting go meant acknowledging that there was something beyond my fixing. That giving myself to that relationship hadn’t paid off the way it was supposed to. Only God, and time, could repair the damage my refusal to let go caused, and delaying that decision to begin letting go plunged me into a depression that lasted over two years. Besides the psychological toll, it had a physical toll on my body too, and I gained over fifty pounds during those two years.

This type of pain, relationship-related, is eclipsed only (in my mind) by what one experiences with the death of someone you loved, and then ‘letting go’ is part of a long grieving process of denial, anger, isolation,  depression, and finally, acceptance, when we’ve learned to let go and move on.

Let go. What ugly words!

They are words that convey a sense of loss, of uncertainty, of doubt, of release. Rarely of hope.

My Recent Struggle with Letting Go

Over the past three or four years, I’ve been returning to some old habits that have proven not to be healthy for me. Sure, they have their external benefits (for a while), that adrenalin rush, the exhilaration of a sense of purpose and a common goal that you share with others, while engaging in a shared activity. 

There was also the unexpected blessing of the beloved friendships you’ve build from those mutual experiences that (you hope) will last a lifetime, over the life changes that inevitably follow — a new job, a new city, a new hobby, etc. And sometimes they do, but more often, the roots of those friendships fail to survive the transplanting. Then, when it doesn’t, it can be like grieving for the death of a loved one. 

I’ve been struggling with the acceptance of the death of some friendships, and the need to ‘let go’ of those old relationships that appear not to have lasted the transition. It’s been difficult.

While the psychological struggle to quit a habit (like smoking or drinking) can be conquered, and there are certainly support groups available, rarely do I hear anyone talk about the mental anguish and loss of close friends. It can feel like the death of a loved one. In the example to which I am referring, more like the death of several persons, and unexpectedly, the psychological pain of quitting is like a flash of bright sunlight through a rearview mirror compared to the supernova of grief, denial, isolation, depression, and eventually, acceptance, that you’ve lost more than you realized.

Suffering and the Cross

But suffering shouldn’t be such a foreign concept to Western Christians. God never promised us an easy ride. On our own Via Dolorosa, as we journey to death, and ultimately, our resurrection through Christ, we are called to experience the same suffering as Our Lord. Sometimes, the suffering is from without, like the disease that attacks our bodies, or from the culture that ravages our souls. Sometimes, it is suffering induced by our poor life decisions. And sometimes, as the Bible tells us, God will refine us as by fire.

I’ve found that meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, particularly the Sorrowful mysteries, helps me to correctly view my suffering in the light of eternity, by mulling over the struggles of Our Lord. I am not greater than my master. Anything I count as loss for the sake of pursing Christ is gain. And He never fails us. In fact, sometimes, rare times, letting go can even be a gift.

The Gift of Letting Go

balloon-984229_1920 The photograph I’ve chosen on the left is that of a child holding an air lantern, on the precipice of letting go. Once he does, the hot air from the flame within will bear the lantern aloft where it will join others in the sky. Someday, I’d like to see one of these lantern festivals in person — I’ve heard of their extraordinary beauty and otherworldly presence. And there are participants in that experience, the ones willing to let go.

Its an imperfect metaphor, but, I like to think that if we view God as the flame, the Light within the lantern, then when we are willing to let go of ourselves — our past mistakes, our poor choices, the life and aspect of our soul that keeps us tethered to the world — when we let go and trust God fully (always in the creche of the Cross), then we will be carried aloft like the lanterns. Our souls will shine as they reflect the love and light of Christ to a watching, expectant world. So the question is, how much do you want to hang on to whatever you’re clinging to so tightly…or are you willing to try and let go?

Browsing the Stacks: Hygge at Home

In a time of growing instability and a vastly mobile, technology-driven society, I think a lot can be learned by the current public fascination with hygge. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is a Danish term with no exact English translation, but when you look at the sum of its parts, it conveys the warm, bright, cozy atmosphere that can almost, on a psychological level, be mistaken for love and being present in the moment.

Hygge may appeal to two separate camps, the first being a selection of people who desire the external trappings of a homey feel without the essentials, and these will flit from one self-help/home design trend to the next, like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, but never returning home. The second group will be those who already have the fundamentals (love, stability) but don’t know how to add those little touches to round out home life — perhaps, because they never had experienced it themselves. It is to the latter group that I address this post.

I’ve read a number of books about hygge over the last year, and wanted to take a few moments today to share two reads on the subject that are representative of the feeling of hygge, and a sampling of what you might find between the covers (yes, that’s a cozy blanket pun). 

Tasting Hygge: Joyful Recipes For Cozy Days and Nights by Leela Cyd (2017, The Countryman Press, a division of W,W, Norton & Company).

This title has a lovely gold foil title and author font against a blue toile backdrop and in the foreground, aged silver with wildflowers, and “Swedish Selmor with Almonds and Cream”. Amongst a dozen books, this immediately stood out as something worth flipping through for the photography alone, even if you’re not a cook (Cyd is a photographer and cookbook author).

The recipes are divided into sections: warm, spiced, smooth, calm, bright, and hygge to go, and the recipes are accompanied by anecodes from the author’s background, interweaving hygge as a lifestyle behind the food and drink presented, and beautifully photographed. 

The first entry, “Dad’s Golden Biscuits and Quickie Jam wiith Warmed Stones”, describes the charming, foreign (to me) practice of heating stones to keep biscuits warm, to encourage diners to linger longer at the table. I’ve never tried warming stones, and I don’t know anyone who ever has, and this sounds both wonderful and confusing. Do people not use microwaves? How do you handle hot stones and not burn yourself? The author mentions that stones can explode in the oven — how do you choose the right ones? Speaking as if this is common practice (perhaps it is), so far removed from the culture, I can only read on and wonder at this hint of a people and a practice of hygge.

Other “warm” recipes included were shirred eggs, buckwheat crepes (and toppings!), dark chocolate disc cookies, and brioche with chocolate streusel. There are a good ten or so recipes in each of the following sections, but for space, I’ll only mention my few favorites in each category, to whet your appetite, and leave you to find a copy of the book and explore the rest for yourself.

In the “spiced” category, Cyd leads off with spiced glogg, a traditional Danish mulled wine made with a dry red wine, brandy, golden raisins, almonds, cardamon and cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, and some added citrus. The result sounds festive and heavenly, doesn’t it? Other recipes that caught my notice included the gingerbread waffles and and the braised lentils with apricots and olives on yogurt toast.

“Smooth”, a curious sensation that I normally wouldn’t attribute to hygge, takes its roots in the sensation of feeling cared for, and the treats one got as a child, think ice cream, puddings and the like. I was excited by the earl grey pot de creme, and the campfire banana boats, which made me almost want to be an outdoorsy, overnight person, just to try this recipe over a fire some morning.

“Calm” recipes encourage doing things at a slower, unhurried pace, like the slow-stirring of pistachio milk, or the making of rice porridge with cranberries and rose. In my own home, oatmeal with toppings is a common favorite for a winter morning — there’s nothing quite like facing the bracing cold with a warm belly full of oatmeal or another grain.

Hygge isn’t hygge without an element of light, and “bright” takes this to another level, adding the idea of the zing of a lemon, or the tartness in a pickled vegetable.  Recently, I had the opportunity of trying some urban farm dining and tried a delicious strawberry compote, so now I love all things compote. Cyd has a recipe for a plum compote (lemon seeds, plums, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest) that I may want to revisit someday if I get the courage to try cooking/baking at home.The strawberry thyme switchel (apple cider vinegar, syrup, herbs and ginger) did not sound appealing, but the colorful drinks look fresh and ready for a bridal party or other special occasion.

Finally, in “hygge to go”, Cyd gives instructions on how to blend teas, preserve lemons, and perform magic with honeys and salts that seems too technical for a novice, but may make some nice gifts to give for the holiday season.

The Hygge Life: Embracing the Nordic Art of Coziness Through Recipes, Entertaining, Decorating, Simple Rituals, and Family Traditons by Gunnar Karl Gislason and Jody Eddy (2017, Ten Speed Press).

This title captivates with a front cover with copper foil and layers of sheepskin that you want to sink your toes in while sitting beside a well-stoked, lit fireplace. This was another of those titles that leapt out at me and I had to bring home (lucky for my wallet, I work at a library!). This book covers much of the same terrain as the other, although the recipes are broken down into categories based on the meal type or excursion: “Starting the Day”, “Caring For Yourself”, “Staying In”, “Easy Gatherings and Holidays” and “Getting Out”. Recipes are by Icelandic chef, Gunnar Karl Gislason.

As you can gather, “Starting the Day” includes breakfast means like kleinur, a type of Icelandic beignet; fritters, pancakes and rice porridge. I see a theme of hearty fare with fresh fruits.

“Caring For Yourself” has a recipe for homemade bath salts.

If your plan is “Staying In”, you’ll find recipes for creature comforts like hot chocolate and stove-top popcorn, and bravel fare like fennel salad, or fried fish with almonds and capers, or braised pork tenderloin with oyster mushrooms and parsnips.

For “Easy Gatherings and Holdays”, the authors recommend a number of delightful-looking desserts and bitters, to compliment some sturdy haunches of mea, like braised lamb shanks with bok choy and sweet-and-sour dill oil; or baked cod with celeriac puree, chorizo, and carmelized onions; or a lamb stew.

Finally, for those occasions where you’re “Getting Out” and about, perhaps you’ll be in the mood for marinated herring on rye bread with eggs in shallott; or open-faced sandwiches with pork, pickled cabbage and horseradish mayonaise.

Eddy includes in each chapter insights into the hygge way of life that is sure to add something new to your routine, whether it’s a discussion on brewing coffee and tea, and taking turkaffe (a coffee break while hiking);  creating a cozy reading nook; practicing self-care; or finding a way to embrace hygge during a stressful plane ride.

This is one of those titles I’ll be coming back to (and probably adding to my list of ebook purchases down the road). There’s a wealth of books about incorporating hygge in the home with top 10 lists and the philosophy behind the practice, so if you’re interested in learning more about hygge, there’s a lot out there. I hope you enjoyed taking a peek at these two titles I brought home this week, and if you have any recommendations for other hygge titles, please leave a comment and share below.

The Book of Wisdom

For a complete list of blog posts in the Journey Through The Word series, please click here.

Where Am I?

Wisdom is the next book after the Song of Songs, and is followed by the book of Sirach.

Wisdom. Solomon calls her more precious than rubies, more desirable than gold (Proverbs 3). The source of wisdom is the Lord and in the fear of God, we set ourselves on the path towards gaining God’s understanding to help us make good life decisions and avoid evil.

But what is the ‘fear of the Lord’? My Bible footnotes* define it as a “reverential fear and respect for God on account of His sovereignty, goodness and justice toward men. This is the foundation of religion.”   I’d like to think that this means that God is willing to impart of Himself divine guidance to anyone who wholeheartedly pursues Him.

Initial Impressions

In its nineteen chapters, the book of Wisdom speaks in the voice of Solomon but it was authored long after the Bablyonian exile, written a century or so before the birth of Christ. In that respect, the book feels like a continuation of the book of Proverbs, using some of the same literalistic styles (Wisdom personified and her virtues), and Hebrew verse, and in the latter half of the book (Chapter 11 onwards), a detailing of the providential acts of God that led to the freedom of the Israelites from the yoke of slavery under Egyptian rule.

At first, I didn’t see the point of including this in the Bible as the repetition of themes from other books made it feel unnecessary. As I went further along, there were a few passages that resonated with me and were completely novel to my experience. As I bought an inexpensive, secondhand Bible for this purpose, I began underlining passages.

“For fear is nought but the surrender of the helps that come from reason; and the more one’s expectation is of itself uncertain, the more one makes of not knowing the cause that brings on torment.” (Wisdom 17:12-13)

Wow. This is amazingly true and I probably need to inscribe this somewhere where I will see it daily. Anxiety is a constant battle for me and the source of it is that niggling fear of the unknown that is a constant source of grief, both in my life, and in those affected by my moody disposition. Less than a week after reading this passage for the first time, I encountered a situation that would have destroyed my entire day, poisoned with anxiety. Quoting that verse, I prayed instead and the Holy Spirit broke into my fearstruck reveries as the voice of Reason, calming my anxious heart. Time passed, and that Voice proved to be true and my fears, unfounded. God is merciful!

While this was the only passage that struck me as worth sharing from the entire nineteen chapters, I am a firm believer that each reading of the Bible, at different stages of your life, will bring something new and impactful. There are always new treasures to unearth.

Looking ahead to the rest of the readings, I am hopeful some of the other books will have more quotables to share. Meantime, do you have any favorite quotes from the book of Wisdom? How have they impacted your life. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

*The Bible version I am studying is the New American Bible, Fireside Personal Study Edition, (2006-2007 edition) by Fireside Catholic Publishing. Some of my paraphrases are based on the NIV and NASB versions which I grew up with.