The Prayer of Examen

Talking with God

Prayer Practice No. 1 — The Prayer of Examen

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. —John 15:15

More than anything else, prayer is about being in an active, ongoing relationship—or friendship—with Jesus. If you remember that prayer is about ‘friendship,’ you’ll suddenly find yourself remembering how every friendship you have ever had was marked by specific habits and ways of communicating.

Being a friend sometimes means talking; sometimes it means not saying a word, but sharing times of easy silence together; sometimes you share a special place (a forest or an ocean beach, etc.) with a friend; sometimes you share music; sometimes it means acting for your friend – being of help; sometimes it means listening to the friend when they want to give or show or teach or guide you in something.

When we think about prayer, many of us think about “saying prayers” or learning new “techniques” of prayer. But the truth is, prayer is about doing whatever is necessary to deepen our friendship with God—and then making sure to set aside time daily to do that. Learning specific “habits” and “techniques” has this goal in mind: giving us practical steps to grow our friendship with God. Often, these “habits” are a lot older than we are, handed down throughout the history of the church, from one friend of God to another.

The Practice: The Prayer of Examen

The prayer of examen is a prayer practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), first outlined in his book, The Spiritual Exercises. The prayer of examen helps us reflect on our day and see where God may have been present in ways we didn’t first see. This practice is “a rummaging through a day’s experiences, looking for God.”

Each day in this coming week, set aside ten or fifteen minutes at the end of your day (but before you are too sleepy to make yourself attentive to the practice) to practice the Examen.

Before You Begin

Before you begin, set aside anything that will intrude on this focused time of practicing – it’s a good idea to turn off the TV, and put away your phone. Have great respect for how challenging it can be to be fully present only here, only now, and for the sake of this prayerful practice.

Open by inviting the Holy Spirit to help guide you this practice. Pray like this: “God, I want to make myself completely available to you – Father and Son and Holy Spirit. I want this designated amount of time to be governed completely by what You want for me. Give me the Light I need to see, and in seeing, to understand.”

Step One: Replay the Day in Your Mind

Notice where God has been active over the course of the day. This is a process of active remembering. Find some moment, however simple it was or brief, when you felt grace in your life. Where did God “show up” for you?

Step Two: Name the Strongest Feelings You have Experienced in the Last Few Days.

This next step of active remembering is aimed not at “what happened” but it is about recognizing when in the past few days you have felt most strongly moved in your affections, or emotions.

Which affection in particular was activated strongly? Give a name to that particular feeling: joy, depression, anger, delight, contentment, hope, shame, regret, confusion, disgust, compassion, doubt, gratitude, etc.

The main goal of Step Two is noticing your strongest emotional reactions to particular things, and wondering with God about those reactions. Ask, “Why did I feel that so strongly?” or, “Does this strong reaction reveal my faith in God, or a lack of it?”

Step Three: Share Just One of those Strong Affections with Jesus.

Be honest with Jesus about what “caused” this strong affective response in you, and try to name accurately which particular feeling it was that you felt.

Ask Jesus whether He ever felt this same thing, and the way that you felt it, when he lived and moved and had His earthly life among us.

God may bring to mind a passage from the Gospels, to a scene in Jesus’ life in which He reacted as you did. Read that text to yourself and explore Jesus’ affective response. Like yours, or different?

Explore through the strong affection you experienced the value that corresponds with that feeling.

Step Four:  Thank God for Being Present to you in this Practice and for Helping you Grow in your Friendship.  

*  *  *

The Prayer of Examen — in Brief

Replay – What happened today?

Rejoice – Where did I feel grace today? Where was God particularly present?

Repent – Where did I feel emotional pain today? Where did I sin?

Resolve – To live differently tomorrow, if need be. And sleep with gratitude.