religion, Unschooling

The Examen…and Unschooling

I love journeys. Going on holiday. On adventures…like a child in an Enid Blyton novel…or in Swallows and Amazons series…or from The Ballet Shoes or other Noel Streatfield books.

I love tales of journeys. People’s travels, their explorations, their thoughts, their transformations.

Their metanoia.

I am currently reading a journey book.

I am reading, amongst many other books, My Life With the Saints.

The author, a Jesuit, writes of his journey…from a lukewarm Catholic childhood, as a child with an unexplained penchant for St Jude , to the corporate world and eventually to the priesthood.

And he writes of his companions, his mentors along the way. St Joan of Arc. St Therese of Lisieux. St Jude.

And, of course, St Ignatius of Loyola.

Until the age of twenty-six he was a man given over to the vanities of the world…from The Autobiography of St Ignatius Loyola.

Any understanding of the spirituality of St Ignatius begins with his work, The Spiritual Exercises.

Human beings are created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save their souls.

St Ignatius described a form of prayer, called the examen. An examination of conscience, yes, and also a way of noticing where God is active in your life.


It contains in it five Points.

First Point. The first Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.

Second Point. The second, to ask grace to know our sins and cast them out.

Third Point. The third, to ask account of our soul from the hour that we rose up to the present Examen, hour by hour, or period by period: and first as to thoughts, and then as to words, and then as to acts, in the same order as was mentioned in the Particular Examen.

Fourth Point. The fourth, to ask pardon of God our Lord for the faults.

Fifth Point. The fifth, to purpose amendment with His grace.

Our Father.

Or, as My Life With the Saints describes…There are five steps in the examen…first, you ask God to be with you. Then you recall the events of the day for which you feel grateful (you ask for the grace to know your sins)…. The third step is a review of the day. Here, you try to notice God’s presence in the day, seeking an awareness of where you accepted , or did not accept, God’s grace….This leads naturally to the fourth step:asking forgiveness for any sins. The fifth step is asking for the grace to follow God more closely during the following day…

St Ignatius wrote of purifying oneself.

Reflecting on my day, and on my life, I see how many people, and yes, how many saints, have been my companions, my mentors, along the way.

To Catholicism. To motherhood. To marriage. To homeschooling. To unschooling.

Though not especially in that order.

And I thought…how could one make this examen, first, as a spiritual exercise, as a way of purifying oneself..and then, as an unschooling exercise…finding God in all things, to paraphrase St Ignatius, albeit succintly and imperfectly.

St Ignatius recommended that the examen be prayed, be undertaken, twice daily.

Ah, the dailiness, the effort of twice each day…I guess both a discipline and a grace in itself for someone like me, who struggles to make (almost) daily mass, to pray the morning and evening prayers of the Divine Office, to perhaps pray the psalms, to perhaps read my missal and to read the saint of the day with the kids, to workout, to complete tasks on my To Do List, to spend time with everybody, to work, to read for leisure, to hang out, to talk with my unschooling teens, to study, to write, to text, to Facebook, to blog, to get my nails done…. Let alone to cook dinner and do laundry and housework!

I do all these things yet I feel constantly strapped for time…

So, the examen could be both a means of developing self discipline and a source of grace. For me. Even if undertaken occasionally, not as frequently as St Ignatius described.

And the examen could also be applied to my life as an unschooling mother.

If a spiritual examen helps in purification of oneself, perhaps an unschooling examen can help in clarifying just what is achieved or produced each day in what can seem to be a scattered, cluttered unschooling life.

Again, a discipline (taking five minutes to log or to think..just what is it we did today?) and a grace (thank God, we are on the right path..or… dear God, help me to do better tomorrow).

And so, I have to admit that the Spiritual Exercises got me started on thinking about an unschooling examen. (Not very spiritual of me!).

But very unschool-ish ( learning is everywhere and everything counts!)

As I said above, by unschooling examen I mean thinking about a few things each evening – a few things for which I am grateful , in unschooling; a few things that I have seen that have been learned or experienced that day; a few things where I have seen God’s hand in our family, in our kids, in our unschooling, in my life; a few things for which we need prayer.

Here is my unschooling examen for today…I am grateful for…the time to be with my teens, to share lunch at McDonalds today and to laugh..when other teens are stressing about homework and exams and not often talking to their mums about life. Today my kids have learned…well, some Maths, some Latin…Thomas started on The Crusades by Hilaire Belloc….some philosophy as we have discussed Alexander’s college reading. Today I saw God’s grace…at mass, at the Tyburn convent, receiving the Eucharist, with prayer and peace and thanksgiving….at coffee with friends, their friendship and acceptance…in some of my sons as they empathized with a situation in which I find myself, once again. I am praying for... a very special intention!

The universal call to holiness is…an invitation to remember the sacramentality of everyday life and to realize the great goal God has set for us: sanctity….The call to sanctity is an invitation to friendship with God. It is a call that transformed the lives of the saints into gifts to the One who loved them into being….from My Life With the Saints.

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