I started praying the examen years ago when I was really struggling to find God in the midst of my days. It felt, then, that there was just so much to do. I didn’t have time to pause. Or reflect. Or notice a darn thing, so I needed something to look back over the course of my day so that the busy would not overwhelm but so that God could help me to notice those times when God was present and active in my day.
The prayer of examen was developed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola for just this purpose. It was a way to reflect, to look back and to pay attention to God’s presence in the ordinary parts of life.
It is often practiced at the end of the day, though there is a version where one can enter the day. If you are a person who can silence your phone and ignore your email long enough to spend that centering time, it’s a blessed gift. I admit that I’m more likely to hit the snooze button until I’m absolutely required to get out of bed and begin the day — which does not leave much time at all for reflective practice.
It is something that I’m finding I need again, not because life is so busy but because it is so slow. And so, I’m spending time at the end of each day in quiet reflection with my journal and pen. For whatever reason, journaling and doodling upon the page calls me to greater attention — though it is not required.
What follows is the version I’ve created tweaked a bit from Mark E. Thibodeaux’s Reimagining the Ignatian Examen which you’ll find among the Prayer Resources I’ve highlighted. You might also notice that it takes a queue from my favorite prayer of confession in the Book of Common Prayer.
Ask God to come close.
With my journal in hand and a pen in the other, this reflective time still begins in silence with closed eyes and taking a few deep breaths. With each breath, invite God to come close and pay attention to what images or words come to speak about who God is right now. These are the first things that appear on the journal pages — doodles and words that speak of who God is right now. Sometimes that’s a fuzzy little lamb or other times it’s just a single word like Gracious.
Though this feels like an action by its traditional description, it is more a feeling. In that reflective posture, perhaps with eyes closed again, allow yourself to feel all of God’s blessings like you might feel the rays of the sun. Sometimes I need to draw a sun in my journal as I do this and other times I can list a bunch of blessings that come flooding to mind.
Review Things I’ve Done.
Mark E. Thibodeaux has many variations on this prayer that don’t quite fit with this season of my life, though I love this little book. For right now, while tackling my to-do list is my primary task which might not take me far out of the house or even to encounter another soul during the day, I spend this next time in prayer reflecting on what has been accomplished. I try not to list these things in my journal but instead to pay attention to the feeling that this accomplished task left upon my heart. I write those things down in my journal, whatever they may be.
Face Things I’ve Left UnDone.
There are inevitably things that did not get accomplished today, and so I turn my attention to those things. As with those things that I’ve done, I try to focus on the feelings that linger and ask God to share in whatever anxiety or fear or whatever else I might be carrying in trying to get these things done. I write those things down in my journal, whatever they may be.
Look with a whole heart at where God has been.
In this next movement of prayer, I look back at the doodles and words in my journal and ask where God has been. I pay extra attention to those feelings and wonder what they say about God, myself and even my neighbor. This is where I find myself asking: where do I need to carry God into the things and even the days ahead?
Carry God with you.
With that last question, I doodle or write a prayer to conclude my time of prayer with extra attention on what it is that I both need to remember about where God has been in my day and where I feel God might be leading me next.
This is just one way to pray the examen. It’s working for me right now, but it might change as my needs change. For other ideas, please do refer to Mark E. Thibodeaux’s Reimagining the Ignatian Examen. It’s a real gem.
Have you tried praying the examen? What have you found helpful in this ancient practice for holding the holy threads of your life?