How and Why to Pray the Examen
June 10, 2022
There is an old form of prayer called the Examen. It was first developed by the 15th century Spanish mystic Igancio de Loyola, who commended the priests in his growing movement called the Society of Jesus to pray this way every day. For a few years, I’ve been praying versions of this prayer daily myself. And this summer, I’m sharing that experience with a small group at Reservoir.
If it interests you, here is how and why to pray the Examen.
How to Pray the Examen
- Acknowledge presence and ask for God’s guidance.
Take a slow breath and remember God is with you. Whisper aloud if you can: you are with me, God. Ask for God to deepen your insight and wisdom. You are about to pray in the spirit of Psalm 139, seeking to know and be known, in all your beauty and troubles, just as you are already fully known by God.
- Review your day.
Think about what you have experienced and felt throughout the day. (You can pray this way in the morning or the evening, considering either yesterday or the day that is coming to a close.) Identify any experiences in which life seems to be flowing more, and any where life is diminishing. This is a little different than highs and lows. You may have an experience of sadness, but one in which you felt really alive and connected. You may have accomplished something, but that accomplishment left you surprisingly empty. We’re looking to notice experiences in which we became more alive, which are likely times in which we are growing closer to God. And we’re looking to notice experiences in which we became less alive, which may be times in which we were moving away from God. (Ignatian spirituality calls this consolation and desolation.)
- Reflect on, talk to God about what you notice.
Pay attention to what you are noticing and learning. What do you have to say about these things? You may be helped by prayers of thank you, sorry, or please.
- Thank you – gratitude to God or others for gifts, blessings, connection.
- Sorry – letting God know how you lost your way, perhaps realizing you owe someone else an apology
- Please – asking God for insight, guidance, help with things you are experiencing.
- Look forward to the day to come, with hope, resolution, and prayer.
Think and pray a bit about the day to come. Share your hopes with God. If you want to resolve to live differently in any way, feel free to do so. Ask God for whatever you or others in your life need.
Why to Pray the Examen
- Over time, you’ll discover God in all things.
The trademark phrase of Ignatian spirituality is the discovery of God in all things. The Examen invites us to notice how the Spirit of God has been with us each day and notice how we and others in our life either partnered with the Spirit of God or missed the moment. But over time, we notice more and more how God is always with us all, loving us and wooing us toward ever more just, creative, loving lives.
- It’s a powerful tool for personal growth.
It is widely known that regular, structured self-reflection is one of the most powerful ways to grow in any area of life. The Examen offers just that opportunity, and it does so bathing the experience in gratitude, awareness of God’s presence, and prayer. The Examen can be a means to not only connect with God but to partner with God in growing an ever-more purposeful, meaningful, valuable life.
- It can be endlessly adapted.
The Examen is an old form or prayer and a flexible one that can be adapted to suit many purposes. On our blog you can a daily examen for living as an anti-racist person, co-written by Reservoir member and spiritual director Vernee Wilkinson. Last year, I wrote an examen for the long season of the pandemic. There are examen apps, including one I’ve used called Reimagining the Examen. The goal isn’t to pray the Examen the “right” way, but to use it as a guide however you are led.