As a part of my recent spiritual journey, I am learning a practice called the Prayer of Examen.
The Prayer of Examen is a spiritual exercise created by St. Ignatius of Loyola a 15th century Spanish Priest. One of his insights was that we detect the presence of God in our emotions. And so, reflecting with God on our emotions tunes our spirits to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout our day.
The point of reviewing our day with Christ is to train our minds to sense the Spirit of God working in us. If we can begin to discern the moments that we turn toward or from God and understand why, it can help us when we encounter those moments again throughout our day.
The Prayer of Examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. We are invited, through several movements, to concentrate on experiences from the past 24 hours. The beauty of this is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. So, if some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel free to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.
If I were to summarize the entire prayer in a few words, it is: Sitting with God and asking together, “What just happened?”
And that one part – with God – is so important. This is not a time when you review your feelings. This is a conversation where you allow God to guide you. Without this relationship Examen slips to the level of self-reflection for self-perfection.
Many people practice this at the end of their day. Some practice it in the morning looking back over the previous day. Many practice it twice a day. It does not have to be a long time—it may be 10-15 minutes.
You may find it helpful to write out what you notice during your times of prayer.
THE MOVEMENTS OF EXAMEN
The beginning part is spending time in gratitude.
The Gospel of John tells us, I am in you and you are in me and without me you could do nothing. We are nothing without God and we have nothing without him. Everything we have is his gift to us. So when we spend time in gratitude, it fosters a profound sense of humility. It puts us in the right position of realizing we are ultimately poor, powerless, and weak. Gratitude moves is to realize that God is given us so much and it puts us in the state to truly receive his voice throughout the rest of the prayer.
This is a time of reviewing the day for what we were truly grateful for.
• Was it a conversation we had?
• An experience or meal?
• Was it something unexpected?
For example, one recent experience of Gratitude was a meal I had with my family before we sent two kids off to college. As I was reviewing this meal the next day during Examen, I focused on the feeling of joy I had, of remembering looking around the table at the faces of my family, of knowing this moment was precious. And I was able to direct my gratitude towards God.
You will want to remember that moment as vividly as you can—what were we feeling and thinking, what was God saying to us in that moment? No gift is too great or too small to be grateful for.
So in this portion of the examen, look back over the past day and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. And then, using simple words, express your gratitude to God.
In this movement, you prepare to review your day with God. You begin to speak to God about what you truly want from him out of this moment of prayer.
• It may help you to articulate a verse of scripture to him, like “Ask and you shall receive” or “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
• It might help you to be more casual. “Father, I would like to look over my day with you,” or “God, can I share my day with you?”
• A few weeks ago my prayer this moment was simply, “God I truly need encouragement today about how my day went yesterday. Would you would you show me moments where I was following close to you?”
The key that is you are stilling your heart and letting that desire come to God. Remember, this is not a demand. All we can do is ask. And after a time of gratitude, we are more ready to review and ask of God.
Now we walk through our day and review it, with God, specifically looking for moments when we were moving towards God, or away from him.
It is important during this time to not evaluate what we did as good or bad — this is difficult because we are tempted to rush to just that. Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember. But this is not the time to confess sin. This is truly getting at the heart of that journey of discovery of who God is and who we are.
The primary focus is: How has God been working in us?
You might ask questions like these:
• What troubled me today?
• What challenged me today?
• Where and when did I pause today?
• Have I noticed God’s presence in any of this?
• Why did I do what I did?
• Were there moments of anger or isolation, or moments of joy?
This is a time to ask God Can you sit with me and make sense of it with me? What was I looking for that I wasn’t finding in you?
The reason we are focusing on our feelings, emotions, motives, the why behind our actions is that we are cultivating a faith approach to life — that life is first listening, then acting in response.
We now confess our sins and ask God to forgive us. We start with the understanding that we are confessing our sins with God, knowing that he is a Father who loves us and cleanses us of all unrighteousness.
We are allowing God to show us his great forgiveness which is given us in Christ. This is not a time for self-condemnation. It is about experiencing the love of God. It is helpful to be specific here, to be true about what really happened, to be honest and bring it into the light.
Remember that this part of the prayer, like the rest of it, is never done alone. It is always done with God. If we do this moment alone it becomes a time of beating ourselves up, or judging ourselves, or of shame. This is not the point of the prayer. Ultimately we seek the Father’s unconditional love for us.
After the time of forgiveness is the final time of resolution. Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Beginning now, how do you want to live your life differently? What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
Q: What has God surfaced as you begin to turn your heart towards the next period of time, the next day or so?
Q: What are you hoping to see that will make tomorrow different?
What you are looking to do is, with God, make some practical, concrete and doable resolutions for the next period of your day.
The hope is that this is not something you are just coming up with on your own, but something God has arisen in you … an insight or next step.
For example: the day I was taking my son to college, I felt my resolution was “I will take action to engage with my son and not let this day just pass by.” Another time it was, “Today I wish to be slow to speak and quick to listen. I want to pause and invite wisdom into my speech.”
This is a powerful positive moment of hope and confidence that not only is God going to be with us in the future but that he is going to work within us to allow some part of our life to be better than it was today.
I hope you might consider leaning in to the practice of Examen. I think it may open new avenues for drawing you closer to the Christ who loves you.