The “Examen Prayer” is a form of Ignatian spirituality derived from St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. The practice is older than Ignatius but he gave it the present form.
I have been using Ignatius’ practice for some time now. I have found it extremely helpful. I had used other forms of this, particularly from the Alcoholic’s Anonymous Big Book (quoted below) in my spiritual recovery from workaholism.
In spiritual recovery, I found Steps of Transformation: An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps by Father Webber Meletios (trained in psychology and an Orthodox priest) wonderfully refreshing. Here is a book that combines the insights of 12 step programs with biblical text shaped by the spirituality of Orthodox theology. This is a rich combination filled with theological reflection on spiritual disciplines, spirituality and recovery.
The Examen Prayer, however, is something I have recently begun to use and I was motivated to do so by the example given in Elaine A. Heath’s The Mystic Way of Evangelism. Below is how I practice it, and some further resources.
One more point: I think it is particularly important for men since it focuses on emotion and feeling which are the widows to our souls but which windows we males often keep closed or shut off from others. This examen opens those windows to God and thus enables us to reflect on them and share them with others (especially our wives!) or closest companions in the journey of life.
Centering Silence: get into a relaxed position, settle your spirit and focus your mind/heart by prayerfully repeating a phrase or line from Scripture.
“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8).
1. Recognize that you are in the presence of God and pray for illumination: “Lord, I believe that at this moment I am in your loving presence. Please help me understand myself today and see you in my life.”
2. Review the day with gratitude: “God, I thank you for your many gifts. Help me appreciate your blessings.”
Be concrete and specific. Where have you experienced the goodness of the Lord today? Review the day to see where God has been present throughout the day. Failings will emerge in your review as well.
3. Pay attention to the feelings that surfaced in your review of the day.
Reflect on the feelings, both positive and negative, you have experienced today. Acknowledge the range of feelings that emerge out of the various circumstances of the day. Feelings fill our day and illuminate our hearts.
4. Choose one of those feelings and pray from it: “God, having examined my day, I give thanks for your gifts and ask your forgiveness for my failings. I have felt ____ today and give me grace to see you in this feeling and what it means.”
Is there one emotion or feeling that stands out to you? Explore this emotion—what was its origin, meaning and effect? How did it affect your day? Express spontaneously the prayer that emerges as you attend to this feeling as it appeared during the day.
5. Offer a prayer of reconciliation and resolve: “Lord, as I look forward to tomorrow, I renew my commitment to follow you. Show me how to become the person you want me to be.”
As you review the day to come, what feeling emerges as you look at the coming tasks. Fear? Doubt? Joy? Regret? Whatever it is, turn it into a prayer for help, healing or thanksgiving.
6. Conclude: The Lord’s Prayer.
Ignatian Spirituality – a Jesuit site that describes, models (with video and audio presentations) and explains the Examen spiritual practice. This site also has multiple links to other resources.
Examen.Me – a practical application site where you can process the examen through a guided journaling online and export your entries to your computer.
The AA Big Book (p. 86) suggests something similar meditative strategy for those recovering from addiction–we are all recovering from the addiction to sin:
When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.
On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives.