A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump;
a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.
Proverbs 11:28 (The Message)
The Prayer of Examen
The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise designed by the Spanish monk Saint Ignatius of Loyola [1491-1556], the founder of the Jesuit movement. He encouraged fellow followers of Jesus to engage in the practice for developing a deeper level of spiritual sensitivity and for recognising and receiving the help of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the practice is an increasing awareness of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout the day.
This Prayer is primarily an exercise in remembering, and noticing God in experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.
The examen of conscience is the process of inviting the Lord to search our hearts to the depths of the psalmists words in Ps 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We uncover those areas that need cleansing, purifying and healing
Find a quiet space, where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone (or any other distractions), and sit comfortably. Allow yourself to relax and soak in a moment of silence before you begin. Many people light a candle.
The prayer length can vary, based on the time you want to put into it, but can generally take place in about 10-15 minutes. Evenings are generally best for this type of prayer, as your day will still be fresh on your mind.
Ignatius provides a simple five-step routine for our daily Examen:
1.PRESENCE: become aware of God’s presence
As you sit in silence, renew your awareness of God’s love for you as your one true and perfect Father. Now place your hand on your heart to remind you this exercise is more about feelings than facts.
Try to make yourself attentive to his presence and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your heart and mind as you pray.
2. GRATITUDE: review your day with gratitude
The whole day was a gift from God. How is he looking upon you now? How has He loved you? How has He graced you?
Review your day from beginning to end—identifying and being thankful for God’s presence throughout. Process your day’s high and low points. (Ignatius called these moments of Consolation and Desolation)
Allow big things and small things to arise—everything from the gift of my faith, to the gift of my marriage, to the easy commute to work today.
Recall things that were life-giving. Respond to God in joy for his presence and love for you.
You look back at my day and ask the Lord to point out to you the moments when you have failed in big ways or small. You take a sobering look at the mistakes you have made this day.
However, before doing so, you ask God to fill you with his Spirit so that the Spirit can lead you through this difficult soul-searching. Otherwise, you are liable to hide in denial, wallow in self-pity, or seethe in self-loathing.
You are reviewing your life from a place of love and acceptance. In other words, you’re not trying to earn his approval or acceptance (and you never could)—but because Christ has gained acceptance for you, you have the pleasure of responding in gratitude to his grace.
4. SORROW: Ask for forgiveness and healing
If you have sinned, you ask God to forgive you. You ask for help to get over it and move on. You also ask for wisdom to discern how you might better handle such tricky moments in the future.
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? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?
Take what has been shown to you, look forward and prepare for the Lord’s grace and love for the coming day.
You ask God to show you how tomorrow might go. You imagine the things you will be doing, the people you will see, and the decisions you will be mulling over. You ask for help with any moments You foresee that might be difficult.
Example of Prayer of Examen
I get into a comfortable position, I let my muscles relax and mind quiet down. I take a deep breath and ask God to make his presence known around and in me. I feel this presence and soak in it
I ask God to reveal all the gifts and graces he has given me today, from the big ones (life, safety, love) to the small ones (a good night’s sleep, a phone call from a friend, a compliment). I thank God for each of these gifts.
I ask God to fill me with his merciful love. I ask God to be the leader of this prayer time, rather than brooding or obsessing over myself or the day
Going hour by hour, I review my day. In my imagination, I relive each significant moment of my day. I linger in the important moments and pass quickly over the less relevant ones.
I continue thanking God for the gifts I find in my day. I pause at any of the difficult moments of my day. I pay attention to any missed opportunities when I could have acted in a certain way but didn’t.
When I find moments in which I was not the person I was called to be. I ask God’s forgiveness. I try to sense his healing mercy wash over me
I ask God to show me, concretely how he wants me to respond or what he wants me to do tomorrow. I ask God to show me what kind of person he is calling me . I resolve to be that person and ask God for his help.
I ask myself if there are any last words I wish to say to the Lord.
I close with one or two of the following gestures. I make the sign of the cross, bow or say an “Our father”
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