The Examen prayer is an ancient form of prayer used for hundreds of years in the Christian tradition. The prayer takes the form of a guided reflection of our day, with the goal of improving our ability to discern God’s presence and to know his love for us. The prayer is simple to begin and will grow in power as we plumb its depths.
The Examen prayer is intended as an end-of-day reflection (though there are versions adapted for morning use). Find a quiet place and set aside about 10-15 minutes. The Examen does not work well when rushed.
Below are the basic movements of the prayer. Take these steps as a general guide rather than a prescription; spend longer on one portion or another as God directs you during the prayer. Remember that we are looking for signs of God’s activity in our lives.
- Become aware of the love with which God looks on you. Even if you achieve nothing else in this time of prayer, wait patiently in silence until you come to rest in God. Scripture constantly affirms that God is with us, for us, and looks on us with boundless love. God is not a distant, impersonal force or a stern, disapproving figure; he is our Father, who, when he catches a glimpse of us approaching, runs to meet us on the road, embracing us heartily, endlessly joyful in our presence. Acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit and recognize that he is at work in you now, fully able to lead you in a fruitful reflection of your day.
- Search your day for “graces”. Our days are filled with moments, small and large, when God is at work for our good. Walk slowly through the day’s memories, looking for the signs of God’s presence for which you can give thanks. Pay particular attention to sensations: sights, sounds, smells, feelings, even the taste of food you remember. Relish these moments and linger over them. As you do so, express your gratitude to God and recognize that in all these things, God was and is present to you.
- Ask God to forgive your sins. As you review your day, you will no doubt encounter places where you turned away from opportunities to love, where your thoughts went places they shouldn’t, said things you wish you hadn’t or left important things unsaid, did things you wish you hadn’t done or left undone things that you needed to do. Lift up these thoughts, words, and deeds to God and allow yourself time to know his forgiveness. You are yet his treasured child. Let him reaffirm his steadfast love for you and ask for grace to amend these faults and approach the coming day differently. This is the heart of repentance.
- Pay special attention to your heart. Jesus teaches that our thoughts, words, and deeds well up from deep inside us. By attending closely to our heart, we look for the roots of what is happening in our deepest selves. This too is a domain where we will find God at work. Look here for “consolations”, moments during the day when you felt energized, alive to God and to the people in your world, joyful, thriving, expectant, hopeful, whole; this may be God giving you a glimpse of who he made you to be. In this moment, God was at work, drawing you to himself and toward that better kingdom that drew near in Jesus. Look also for “desolations”, moments when you felt drained, lifeless, fragmented, unworthy, confused, deadened, distracted. In these moments, we discern forces at work that carry us away from God. Many days, you may discern one or the other, both or neither; seek always to hold tightly to the consolations, letting them guide your heart toward God, and seek to endure patiently the desolations, knowing that even if you do not perceive him, God is very near. Lift both kinds of experiences to God, and with gratitude, know that he is at work, ever drawing you to himself.
- Look forward with hope to the coming day. Pause for a moment and rest in the sure knowledge that God is here with you now and that he is already present in the coming day. He will hold you surely and nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Release your burdens to him, commend to him your spirit, and rest peacefully.