The Prayer of Examen
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
During the path I have chosen to walk this year, 2014, a year of intentionally setting aside any ministry except for a lovely group of ladies that God has brought together, I have found a new “meadow” of being in the rhythm of life. A challenge of no longer living led by my competency or gifting, but instead, cultivating the spiritual discipline of self-restraint for the purpose of focusing on being led out of being and not doing. This has been birthed in my soul by being a part of the Leadership Investment Intensive this year, in which I can not say enough and what I believe of timing not by coincidence. This comes after twenty years of my life serving on local church staff, para-church ministry or teaching at middle, high school, and university level, and gladly emerging from a deep season of grief after our son was disabled but born normal. This year has been pivotal. It has been monumental.
As this year is coming to a close, it is with joy that I envision a bridge between the meadow of this year and the fullness of the next, savoring an expansion of what has been started and cultivated in this year. One of those jewels of this year is the Prayer of Examen. Not coming from a more liturgical background other than being confirmed and on pastoral staff at a Methodist church in the past, my faith traditions have not crossed these same circles of ancient practices, tools and readings that I find very precious and nourishing my soul. They are not a means to an end, but simply jewels reflecting a new brilliance when turned in the light. So much so, that I am in process of beginning further certification studies in spiritual directorship and formation as this year has been a monumental year on God’s intelligible gift of this year being mentored, reading a host or life-giving books, being in a cohort with other women in ministry from around the world once a month, and the spiritual formation exercises within The 7th Year Journey.
Awareness of new spiritual disciplines have completely revolutionized daily moments of intentional quietness. Not that these are a means, but simply tools for different seasons. As we are each uniquely designed, some of the disciplines will appeal to some more than others. One of these disciplines is a tool called the ancient practice of the Prayer of Examen by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Examen is a contemplative reflection, a spiritual discipline of prayer-filled mindfulness at the end of the day in order to embrace and discern God’s direction.
Statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola
There are a few movements to this prayer:
1. In the unhurried quiet, acknowledge God and His Presence. From Christian Theology, His Holy Spirit resides in a believer, so it is a paradigm shift of just sitting and acknowledging him. A few long breaths can help quiet your heart and mind as you sit and acknowledge Him.
2. Being aware of His Presence, look back on the day with gratitude. Even in the midst of trials and daily life, there are always things to be thankful for. The practice of gratitude also brings subtle transformations in thoughts when practiced regularly. Ask for clarity or understanding for the day.
3. Ask these questions in a reflective, contemplative time of prayer. Journaling is also good for this exercise:
- For what moment today am I most grateful? Least grateful?
- When did I give and receive the most love today? Least love?
- What was the most life-giving part of my day? Most life-thwarting?
- When today did I have the deepest awareness or connection with God, others, and myself? Least?
- Where was I aware of living out of the fruit of the Spirit? Where was the absence of the fruit?
Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. What is God saying through these feelings?
4. Be responsive to what you feel God is showing you or that you may be more aware.
May this tool of the Prayer of Examen encourage you in your walk with Christ. It’s when we stop to reflect and “be” in His Presence, that we “become” all He designed. It’s then, that the abundant life promised, despite the circumstances, seem to appear before ones very eyes. It’s when one lives in the intentional and purposeful margin of being and not overdoing, being led, that life also becomes full of sweet adventure and numerous “God coincidences”.