A beautiful and helpful practice in looking back with presence and intention.
The Examen is a really helpful practice that enables us to notice what is going on in our interior world as well as our day to day lives. It can help us see what we may otherwise miss and engage more deeply with what God is offering us and inviting us to within the movement of daily life.
Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) was a Spanish Catholic Priest and Theologian who founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits. He is well known for the creation of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises which are even now practiced all over the world. There are many other Ignatian spiritual practices that are very popular and helpful today, one being The Examen.
The Examen comes out of Ignatius of Loyola’s own experience of noticing his interior movements while he lay recovering for months from a cannonball injury in 1521 in his family’s home in Spain. This prayer shaped Ignatius’s life and, to this day, continues to lie at the heart of Ignatian Spirituality.
It is a prayer of discernment, of paying attention to how God is drawing us to himself.
The Examen or Daily Awareness Prayer is rooted in the belief that God works through our everyday life and experience, as well as our desires. It is the central exercise in an Ignatian Spirituality of finding God in all things.
Praying the Examen of Consciousness enables us to:
Notice God’s presence (and absence) in our lives.
Pay attention to our own inner movements and feelings.
Become freer to be in partnership with God and respond to all that He is offering us and inviting us to.
Discern how God is calling us, in small and more significant ways.
The Examen of Consciousness is an exercise of noticing movements within us, paying particular attention to our feelings. It helps us respond to God’s loving invitation in all of our daily activities, to find God in all things.
The Examen generally looks back on the previous 24 hours, but can be done looking back on any stretch of time.
Praying the Examen
As we pray this prayer, we remember that we come before our God who looks upon us with love and accepts us unconditionally. Thanksgiving and gratitude are important qualities of this prayer.
Our approach is one of gentle noticing; it is not effortful or judgmental.
There are five parts to the Examen.
1. Thanksgiving – our hearts rest in gratitude to God for the personal gifts of the day. We look back, meandering through our day whilst thanking God for all that was offered and invited.
2. Prayer for enlightenment – I ask the Holy Spirit to show me what he wants me to notice.
3. Review of the day – I allow the events of the last 24 hours to naturally arise as the Holy Spirit leads me, noticing what is brought to my attention without judgment.
4. Reflection and response – After a time of reviewing, I reflect on the most important moments, paying particular attention to the times when I was drawn towards God and the times when I was drawn away.
I ask myself two types of questions.
When did I feel most joy or feel most alive?
When did I feel loving or most loved?
When did I feel faith or hope or peace?
When did I feel God drawing me to himself?
For these moments, I give thanks to God.
Were there moments of sadness, bitterness or feeling lost?
Were there moments when I felt unfree, dishonest, fearful or driven?
When did I feel drawn away from God or unable to respond to him?
For these moments, I ask for insight and healing.
5. Ask God for what I desire for the day ahead – I ask God for what I desire in the day ahead which may be simply an awareness of his loving presence, or something more specific to my circumstances, such as courage, trust, hope, patience or compassion, or any other need for the time ahead.
Although this is the traditional examen there are many adapted alternatives. If it’s something you’re drawn to then it may be worth searching on the internet for one that fits you. For now, I offer two more…
This is one is very simple whilst offering a lot.
A Simple Examen.
Spend a few minutes quietly ‘under the gaze of God’, who knows and loves you.
Reflect briefly upon your life in the past day or so, asking God to bring to your memory one or two events that are important for you to notice. Be attentive to how your heart is moved as events come to your awareness.
Linger/stay with one event, talking with God about what its meaning or significance might be for you at this time:
A gift to celebrate and to give thanks for
A grace received or needed
A new understanding about God, yourself, a situation?
An invitation calling forth some response?
Talk with God openly and honestly about what has been touched in you during this awareness reflection.
The Stream of Consciousness Examen
(adapted from an approach taught by John Govan SJ)
1. Review the day with thanksgiving, allowing my day to be present to me under the loving gaze of God, and being attentive to moments that spontaneously stir gratitude in me.
2. I ask for the grace of light, wisdom and acceptance, so that I can
See how God was present
Understand the meaning of this for me
And receive and respond to what I have come to understand
3. I use my creative imagination and allow my day to pass before me like a “stream of consciousness” – like watching a film or watching a train go by. I imagine Jesus watching with me and I wait until he freezes the film or stops the train at a particular moment. We look at this moment with him and pen ourselves to the grace we have asked for.
4. I respond and talk to God about my interior self/ movements in light of what happened in Step 3.
5. I image the next day or future and ask for the grace I need to live it in response to the gift given to me in this examen.