What is an examining prayer? Typically, it involves reflection on and evaluation of one’s thoughts, activities, and conduct. The Jesuits refer to such prayer as an “examen” or an “examen of conscience” that is based on a spiritual practice developed by St. Ignatius in the 16th Century. Many forms of “The Examine” have been developed over the years but the “Ignatian Examine” is perhaps the most well-known.
In his practice St. Ignatius invites us to see and find God in all things. Every moment of the day is an opportunity for a Divine encounter. It involves prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and to discern his direction for us. That’s why the Examen is such a powerful prayer. In it, you’re invited to look for and encounter God’s presence in the routine of your everyday life.
The Examen is a flexible prayer, too, but is most effective when practiced daily. In the future we’ll show variations of this practice to meet the need of the moment. Below is one such five step version of the Examen.
A Five Step Prayer of Examen
- Become aware of God’s presence. Place yourself in God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in his presence. The day may seem a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
- Review the day with gratitude. Walk through your day and pray for God’s grace to understand how he is moving in your life. Note the joys and delights of the day. 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—God is in the details.
- 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. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Hurt? Anger? Fear? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings? Did these moments move you closer to God or farther away?
- Choose one feature of the day and pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve an experience, or a feeling or emotion that is positive or negative, clear or muddled, known or unknown. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment from your work. God may even show you some ways that you fell short. Whatever he leads you to focus on, look at it thoroughly. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
- Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light, strength, and hope for tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for wisdom and direction.
Some Things To Keep In Mind
Remember, the examen is flexible within the bounds of its five points. You may discover that your progress through the five steps is not predictable. Sometimes the order will vary and at other times you may not progress beyond the first point or two.
Also remember that the examen is not all there is to prayer. Although the examen is a bringing of one’s daily life into God’s presence it is not necessarily, for example, intercessory prayer for others.
Finally, keep in mind the purpose of this spiritual practice. John Govan writes that the examen is “a concrete way of growing into a vision which integrates everything that happens in one’s life so that God is always seen as present and nothing is necessarily an obstacle to spiritual growth. If practiced faithfully, the Examen can lead to a deep and personal relationship with the Lord so that everything is understood in terms of that relationship. This type of vision is needed if spiritual and human growth are to be seen as interdependent.”
Posted on July 13, 2021