Prayer of Examen
A great way to pray is to look for God’s presence in your life. More than 500 years ago St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged God saturated mindfulness by proposing what has been called the Daily Examen. The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and to discern His direction for us.
While recovering from a serious wound suffered in battle, Ignatius (father of the Jesuits) began reading through scripture and had a profound encounter with the risen Christ. As he pursued God in prayer, silence and meditation, he came to develop a method of clarifying his thoughts prior to entering prayer, and cultivating a greater awareness and attentiveness to God throughout each day. This practice is called The Examen.
Many people find great benefit in practicing the Examen because how it cultivates awareness of thoughts and emotions to bring to God in prayer. In my life, focusing on the Prayer of Examen helps me shift away from swirling thoughts and emotions in order to see the present moment with more clarity. It can also shut down the sometimes repetitive loops of negative, destructive thinking patterns, poor internal commentaries or mounting stress and anxiety. When I am able to shift away from those things, I am able to focus, see and hear God more clearly and discern patterns in my life that need adjustment and re-assessment.
If you’re anything like me, you might need to begin by understanding this is NOT some sort of “test” of your spiritual life, in spite of the resemblance to the word “exam.” In fact, the Examen is almost the opposite. It can be a sort of rest stop or resetting point in your day, offering the invitation to move forward with a greater awareness of God. Ignatius encouraged practicing this “rest stop” twice a day. Many people find a mid-day reset and an evening review and prayer time are beneficial to their overall relationship with Jesus.
There are different ways to ask the questions in the Examen, and as you practice this type of time with God, you will find what fits you best. Pray as you can; not as you can’t. Sometimes I focus on a particular question or aspect of the Examen. Other times the practice reveals a deficit in my awareness of God in my life.
You are invited to consider trying this version of St. Ignatius’s prayer known as The Prayer of Examen:
1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you--a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day like a movie, but in the presence of God. Note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things: the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. In our Western culture it is all too easy to remain "in our head" regarding our relationship with Christ. Don’t discount your emotions! Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings? When did you feel close to God? When did you feel far away?
God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. Look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you to consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to them in some way. Practicing the Examen can help you see patterns in your life in order to discern how to move forward. One of Pastor Adam’s points from Sunday’s teaching was that Christians should expect to hear God in circumstances. The Examen practice helps you pay attention to circumstances and take them to prayer.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve something positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you His light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). I have found the Examen a way to bring my worries and anxious thoughts and emotions to God, exposing any darkness to His penetrating light. Might that be beneficial for your journey with God? You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. Are you willing to review your days with God to see what He might show you that needs healing? Most often soul work takes place in the hard and painful places. Are you ready to bring even those places into your conscious thought and take them to Jesus? If so, perhaps the Examen is a tool to use in your prayer life.
Ways to make Examen part of your day
APP: Reimagining Examen