In this next set of blogs, we plan to flesh out the ideas offered in our previous series with the hope of helping you receive the many life-sustaining gifts of retreating, Today, I share with you the spiritual practice of Examen, which I believe can nourish our spirituality.
Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the Ignatian Examen or the Daily Examen is a contemplative prayer driven by reflecting on your own memories from the day. For some it is a way of recognizing God’s presence; for others it is a way of practicing greater intentionality with their thoughts and actions.
In the tradition where it originated, Jesuits typically pray the Examen at noon and night. Others pray it first thing in the morning to lean into a new day with the joys and laments of the previous day still fresh. Personally, I have found it most meaningful before bed, praying that my dreams for a better tomorrow will become reality.
The Daily Examen can be structured in many ways, typically flowing within these movements:
- Center yourself. Acknowledge an awareness of God’s Presence and give thanks for God’s love for you. You could also use your breath or a mindfulness meditation to slow down and get grounded.
- Review your day through a lens of gratitude. Pay attention to experiences that sparked peace, joy, comfort, connection, wholeness, etc. You may understand this as feeling closest to God or feeling like your best self. I like to imagine that God and I are sitting in comfy chairs watching my day play out before us like a movie on a big screen. All I must do is notice the moments big and small that elicit my gratitude. Perhaps I pause the playback on one moment, really drinking in its goodness.
- Review your day through a lens of lament. St Ignatius called this a desolation: an experience that causes us to feel drained, frustrated, sad, alone, unaccepted, fragmented, etc. Some may understand it as an experience in which you feel far from God. Others may understand it as feeling less than your best self. It can be anything within or outside our control. I imagine God presses rewind, and we watch my day again, only this time I’m paying attention to the desolate moments.
- Choose one lament or desolation to pray into. Reflect on your thoughts and actions in those instances of despair. Were you drawing closer to God or your true self, or further away? How do you wish that moment had gone differently? I sit with God in the fullness of these feelings, and perhaps more difficultly, I allow God to sit with me.
- Look toward tomorrow with hope. Considering your joy and sorrow, dream with God about what tomorrow could be. Think of how you might collaborate with God and others to live into tomorrow with greater intentionality, resilience, and wholeness.
I love the Daily Examen for many reasons, my favorite perhaps being the permission to name our gratitude and lament side-by-side. For much of my life, I internalized a message that it wasn’t okay to say certain things to God (as if it were actually possible to filter my thoughts from the divine). And yet there is profound freedom that comes with honest reflection, a release that makes room for our deepest longings to be met.
Like most spiritual practices, the Prayer of Examen can take many shapes to serve our faith. It is so flexible that in a previous spiritually dry season, it was the closest thing to “prayer” I could summon. While I had trouble sensing God’s presence, I could readily recall moments of gratitude, acknowledge the ways I wish my day had gone differently, and imagine a better tomorrow.
If you’d like to learn more about the Examen, I suggest turning directly to the Jesuits. If you’d like some guidance or variety in your practice, I enjoy using the smartphone app “Reimagining the Examen.” It offers over 30 different themes to guide pray-ers through the familiar movements using modern language and ideas. However you choose to engage in the Daily Examen (or not), may the memories of this day bless you with tastes of joy, moments of peace, a closeness to your truest self, and a renewed sense of hope for tomorrow.