Family Rituals

I read many years ago about a pastor who gathered his family each and every morning, before school and work, for scripture reading, morning devotions and prayer.

Let's just say that the Dana family does not follow that minister's example. Partly because that's not my style, and partly because it's all I can do to get the kids and me out of the house wearing clothes that are weather-appropriate, if not actually matching one another.

But at dinnertime, we do the ancient practice of examen with one another, although none of the kids know that that's what it's called. The examen is a spiritual practice inspired by Ignatius. It's simple, really, and goes by many different names: highs and lows, roses and thorns, etc.

Our lingo is to describe our favorite and least favorite moments of the day. As the kids get older we will shift the language to "what are you most/least grateful for?" and "where did you feel [God's] love today/where did you feel disconnected from [God's] love?" You can read more about the examen for children here. I think it's one of the most beneficial spiritual practices out there.

It's a very sweet, even holy, time of day. It gives us a little glimpse into our children's lives, which is precious since they spend much of the day away from us, at school and daycare. James participates too---we've been giving him a turn for several months, and his answers have provided some amusing non-sequiturs. But now he is starting to get it. And it seems important for the kids to hear about the moments of grace and challenge in their parents' lives too, though we sometimes spare them the truly gory details...

I must be honest---sometimes their energy is all over the place. Sometimes one of them has left the table before we even make it through the five of us. We get sidetracked by conversations. And there are nights when it doesn't happen at all. But when we're all in good space for it, it's great.

I especially love seeing how the kids receive one another's answers. It's not unusual for the kids to mention one another, especially in their least favorite moment. Caroline might say, "My least favorite moment was when Margaret wouldn't stop bugging me."

The first time this happened, I expected protestations and pouts from the offending sibling. But there was none of that. Instead, we just hear the negative stuff and receive it, and move on. Which is really the spirit of the examen: to look lovingly at the day and to appreciate the good and to acknowledge and let go of the bad.