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Ignatian Examen for Racial Awareness

August 12, 2020 – by Elaine Ireland

These two Ignatian examens are intended to guide prayerful reflection on the role that race, racism, and racial bias play in our lives and society. The first examen is written for everyone. The second is written primarily for people who identify as white.

Elaine Ireland is a Christian writer, retreat leader, and spiritual director focused on finding God’s presence in the everyday, and on bringing the Scripture alive for our world today. Rooted in Ignatian spirituality, she has an M.A.in Spiritual and Pastoral Care from Loyola, Maryland. She is currently the Spiritual Director for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in Baltimore and serves as an adjunct retreat leader at Loyola on the Potomac. You can read her weekly Scripture reflections here at preacherexchange.com/comeandsee.

An Individual Racial Awareness Ignatian Examen (Written for People of All Races)
An Individual Racism Awareness Ignatian Examen (Written Primarily for White People)


An Individual Racial Awareness Ignatian Examen (Written for People of All Races)

This examen is, in part, based on the thoughts of Ibram X. Kendi, PhD, professor and author, from his book “How to be an Anti-racist.” It is not for the purpose of looking at systemic racism or racist policy (written and unwritten racially-biased rules or making decisions and judgments based on a group’s skin color or ethnicity.) It is to look at how aware we are as individuals about how we view people of different races and ethnicities.

1. Ask the Spirit for wisdom and help: “Lord, open my eyes and my heart and shine a light on this sensitive subject.” Ask for the grace you need: “Lord, increase my awareness. Let me look at myself and others nonjudgmentally and with love.”

2. Thank God: “For all gifts of my life: (list what you are thankful for). Thank you Lord for the diversity of life—for the variety of plants and animals that add so much to the wonder and delight in our world, and for the diversity within the human species. As part of the natural world, we too vary: in our genders, our languages, religions, our skin, hair, and eye colors, our abilities and disabilities. We are all one, made in YOUR image, an image that encompasses all of creation.” 3. Let your memory take over and see if you can recall instances from your life that stand out to you: media reports, TV or movie portrayals, or especially personal experiences and interactions with those whose skin color or ethnicity is different from yours. If it is easier, think back over the past six months or year (both pre-and post-COVID). Sit quietly with your feelings and thoughts. Remember, feelings and thoughts are neither positive nor negative; they just are. Try not to judge or ruminate on actions or reactions. If needed, here are some suggested questions/concepts for reflection: ? Think about your childhood. What were the demographics of the school you attended, your neighborhood, your church? ? Think about the present: the demographics of work, neighborhood, places of worship? ? When I see a person I don’t know, what is the first thing I consciously notice about them? (e.g., age, race, body type, clothing, appearance, etc.) ? When you are asked to describe yourself or another, what is the first adjective or descriptor that comes to mind? ? Consider the subtle racial and ethnic stereotypes and assumptions our society accepts as givens, or words that are used the imply race or ethnicity (e.g., urban/suburban). ? Friends of different ethnicities can broaden our perspectives. Consider how many of your friends or close colleagues are of an ethnicity other than yours. (Note: Not just acquaintances or co-workers, but people with whom you regularly socialize and/or have


An Individual Racism Awareness Ignatian Examen (Written Primarily for White People)

This examen may be uncomfortable. Ignatius might tell us the more uncomfortable it is, perhaps the more important it is for us to do. The term “white privilege” can be misunderstood. It has nothing to do with how hard one has worked, how hard one’s life has been, or what one started with; it is that by virtue of one’s white skin color, they are afforded more opportunities and less negative stereotyping.

Note: while an Ignatian Examen is primarily about how we feel rather than what we think—prayer is always richer when it comes from the heart--looking at the whys or why nots of some of points in Step 3 may shine a brighter light as you go into Step 4. Approach this with an open mind and heart, refrain from too much self-judgment and -recrimination, and just be honest with God and with yourself.

1. Ask the Spirit for wisdom and help: “Lord, open my eyes and my heart and shine a light on this difficult topic.” Ask for the grace you need: “Lord, increase my awareness. Let me look at myself and others non-judgmentally and with love.”

2. Thank God: “For all gifts of my life: (list what you are thankful for). I acknowledge that many of the blessings I have—though I may have worked hard to earn them—are a result of the societal privilege I have due to nothing more than the color of my skin. Thank you Lord for the diversity of life—for the variety of plants and animals that add so much to the wonder and delight in our world, and for the diversity within the human species. As part of the natural world, we too vary: in our genders, our languages, religions, our skin, hair, and eye colors, our abilities and disabilities. We are all one, made in your image, an image that encompasses all of creation.”

3. Let your memory take over and see if you can recall instances from your life that stand out to you: personal experiences and interactions, or media reports and TV and movie portrayals of those whose skin color is different from yours, especially black and brown people, or people of different ethnicities. If it is easier, think back over the past six months or year. Sit quietly with your feelings and thoughts. Remember, feelings and thoughts are neither positive nor negative; they just are. It is what we do with them that raises moral questions.

If needed, here are some suggested questions/concepts for thought and reflection:

  • Look back on your childhood. Do you recall hearing or experiencing racist episodes and words? Do you recall your reaction? What were the demographics of your school, your neighborhood, your place of worship?
  • What personal biases do you hold (that you are aware of) particularly ones that lump individuals into subjective general categories, positive and negative? (“They are, they do...”)
  • Consider the subtle racial and ethnic stereotypes and assumptions our society accepts as givens, or words that are used the imply race or ethnicity (e.g., urban versus rural versus suburban). How does the media’s portrayal of black and brown people impact your views?
  • Are your interactions with people of color limited to work or school, or as providers of “essential services,” or in charitable situations where you are the “giver”? Do your interactions with people of color normally involve a subtle power dynamic (i.e. are you being served or are you the person providing charity?)
  • Think about the people of color with whom you have interacted recently (who are not already friends): would you be willing to get to know them as a friend? To invite them into your home?
  • How many people of color would consider you a good friend and invite you into their homes?
  • Do you feel discomfort interacting with people of color—fear, awkwardness, shame, guilt, anger, pity, the desire to solve their problems or rescue them?
  • Consider the systemic/institutional racism that the pandemic has brought to light: higher illness and mortality rates for blacks and Latinos due to lack of healthcare and insurance, crowded living situations, un- and under-employment, food insecurity, etc.? How does that make you feel?
  • Does the phrase "Black Lives Matter" cause you to respond internally "All Lives Matter”? Does your response change if you say, "Black Lives Matter, Too"?

4. Pick one thing that “speaks the loudest” to you from step 3. It just might be the thing that makes you most uncomfortable. Try to make it a feeling rather than a thought, so that you can pray from your heart, not your head. Pray for the Spirit to again shine a light on your reflection: “What am I hearing? Guide me to what I am to learn." NOTE: We tend to beat ourselves up and ask for forgiveness; asking for forgiveness can be one of the purposes of an examen, but in this case, we are asking for awareness.

5. Ask: “What do I need help with? What are one or two practical, specific things I can do or change to confront written and unwritten systemic racism?” (A good first step might be to acknowledge it exists.) Thank God again for the opportunity to heighten your awareness and ask for the grace you need to move forward. Close by speaking to God either a familiar prayer like the Our Father, or one that comes from deep within you. Offer yourself and your life to God. Rest in God’s embrace.





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