This coming week, our local Catholic homeschool group will be enjoying at St. Ignatius of Loyola celebration together. As I have been planning for it, I have been reading and thinking a lot about Daily Examens and about how best to introduce them to the children that will be at our celebration. What might we make or do with the children -- who will likely range in age from toddlers to preteens -- in order to help them go home and make a practice or praying a Daily Examen.
What I finally decided on was a Five-Finger Daily Examen.
After explaining a bit about St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Daily Examen, I intend to have each child trace their hand on cardstock and cut it out. Then, on each finger, the children will draw images or write words to remind them to breathe, be grateful, feel, pray and look ahead. On the back side of the hand, they might also glue a pre-printed image of St. Ignatius and the words of the Suscipe or the Prayer of Generosity.
Of course, we will let the Spirit lead us in actually explaining the Examen to the children and guiding them as to what, specifically, they might draw or write on each finger of their hand cut-outs. The detail and depth of what we will go into will be largely based on the ages and abilities of the children present. However, I imagine it will be something drawn from these notes:
Draw an image of wind or breath, write the word "breathe", or write a sentence or two to remind yourself to breathe in God's love and, then, breathe out, filling the space around you with that love. Center yourself and know that God is present. Ask for clarity and understanding.
2. BE GRATEFUL
Draw a smiley face or write the word "gratitude". Or, write a few phrases or sentences to remind yourself to think about the specific joys and delights of the day, the moments you are most grateful for. Ask yourself, what am I most grateful for today? Or, if I could relive one moment, what would it be? Or, which moment made me most able to offer or receive love? Or, what little things did I see/say/hear/feel/experience that made today so good?
Draw several faces that express positive and negative emotions or write the word "feel". Or, write a few sentences or questions to help you look back at the day and think about what you felt at specific moments -- joy, frustration, boredom, anger, compassion, etc. -- and what God might be saying through those feelings. Ask yourself what moment in the day you are least grateful for, a moment when you were least able to give and receive love. Then, ask what was done or said in that moment to make it so difficult and how God might be asking you to respond. Might you feel prompted to be forgiven for a wrongdoing or for the ability to forgive someone else? How might you learn and grow based on the experiences of the day, deepening your knowledge of yourself and your relationships with God?
Draw two hands together in prayer or write the word "pray". Or write phrases or sentences to remind you to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to pray about whatever it is that God thinks is particularly important. You might simply choose one feature of the day and to pray from. You might talk to Jesus about your actions, attitudes, feelings and interactions and feel spontaneously called to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express thanksgiving, etc. You might discover a particular feeling, person or moment during the day, that at the time seemed insignificant, now leads you to prayers of adoration, repentance, thanksgiving or petition.
5. LOOK AHEAD
Draw a sunrise or write the words "look ahead" or "tomorrow". Or, write a series of sentences or questions, such as: When I think about tomorrow, what joys or challenges come to mind? Am I nervous? Excited? Worried? Why? How might I ask God for help and hope? Might I ask for the forgiveness, protection, wisdom and gratitude necessary to grow closer to God in thought and deed, being free to choose to follow him?
Hopefully, the Five-Finger Examen will become a concrete tool that the children can use to make a Daily Examen a meaningful part of their prayer lives.
Daily Examen Inspiration
Of course, there are many other variations of the Daily Examen that are simpler, more complex or just a bit different. Some of the sources I drew inspiration from when praying about what to plan for our St. Ignatius of Loyola gathering were:
- Praying the Examen with Children
- Prayer is as Easy as 1-2-3
- The Examen Prayer Card
- A Daily Examen for Children and Teens
- How Can I Pray
Examen of Consciousness (Ignatian)
- The Examen Prayer
I'd love to hear about your experiences helping children pray a Daily Examen.
What are your favorite prayers, activities, stories, and resources for sharing about St. Ignatius or the Daily Examen with children?