The prayer of Examen: A daily practice

The Prayer of Examen, also known as the Daily, or Ignatian, Examen, is a classic tool for self-examination. It was formalised by St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). The word ‘Examen’ has its roots in a Latin word meaning ‘to weigh accurately’; and so the Examen is about reviewing each day, and weighing it up through prayerful eyes. You can do it at any time, but in the evening is usual. It usually takes ten to fifteen minutes. Many people find it helpful to journal their experience of the Examen, so they can trace patterns and movement over long periods of time. Many also find it helpful to allocate a quiet corner to the practice, perhaps with a comfortable chair, a candle, the Bible, and their journal at the ready.

The Examen can take many forms. What follows is a description of one way through this prayer. Be aware that the steps overlap, and that not every question will resonate every time or with every person. Instead, these are prompts to help you notice and reflect on God’s presence in the day. So let’s begin:

Step 1: Ask God for light. Make yourself comfortable. Take a deep breath, exhale, then pray to see the day through God’s eyes, not your own. You might want to pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any evil in me, and guide me in the way everlasting.”

Step 2: Give thanks. Ask yourself, What did I see, hear, smell, taste or touch today for which I am grateful? Did I witness grace anywhere? Where did I notice the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, trust, and self-control (Galatians 5:2))? Give thanks to God for every good thing in this day.

Step 3: Review the day with love. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your memory, not of your own successes and failures, but of God’s activity hour by hour. Ask yourself questions such as: Where was I most aware of God’s presence? Did I sense God in Scripture, silence or prayer; in weakness, suffering, or vulnerability; in work or in play? Did I sense Christ in the community, and did I bring Christ to others? Did I reach out to the vulnerable, the lonely, or the discouraged? Was I aware of feeling loved; or of sinfulness; or of dependence on God? What were my emotions at each point of the day, and what do they tell me about myself, about God, about the promptings of the Spirit?

Step 4: Face your shortcomings. Without judgement, notice where your life has not yet been touched by Christ. Where did you feel drained today? Where did you feel constrained or trapped? What opportunities to love and serve did you miss or sidestep? Where do you need healing? What are you being asked to learn? Express sorrow for the ways you have not responded to God’s love, and seek forgiveness. Sense God’s healing and mercy wash through you.

Step 5: Look to tomorrow in hope. Reflect on the coming day, particularly those moments you anticipate will be difficult. Ask God to reveal what you are called to do tomorrow, and who you are called to be; and ask God to guide you in all things.

Close: Bow or pray “Our Father”. Or move into a time of centring prayer, another ancient tool which I will describe in an upcoming newsletter.

Of course, this is just an overview of a practice which has been refined over many centuries. If you want to take it further, there are many books and resources out there which can guide you. Also, Loyola Press has a free app, Reimagining the Examen, which offers 30-odd ways through the prayer. I recommend it, with two provisos: one, that every reference to God is male; and two, that the current iteration of the app does not resist your phone going to sleep. To ensure you have enough time to ponder each step, extend your auto-lock setting, or hold the phone so that you are touching the screen.

So that’s the Daily Examen! I hope it is helpful. What other prayer practices do you use?


Emailed to Sanctuary 1 August 2018 © Alison Sampson, 2018.

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