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5 Steps of The Examen

Focus on God’s presence in daily life

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit with a new friend and lead a contemplative prayer mini-retreat on the Examen. The Examen is a prayer that comes from St. Ignasius that focuses on God’s presence in the real world. It looks to a God who is near, present in the world, and active in daily life.

There’s nothing complicated or mysterious about praying the Examen. The Examen looks for signs of the Divine presence in the events of the day — lunch with a friend, a walk in the park, a kind word from a colleague, a challenge met, a duty discharged. The Examen likes the humdrum. The Divine is present in transcendent “spiritual” moments, but also there when you cook dinner, write a memo, answer email, and run errands.

The Examen looks at your conscious experience. The ebb and flow of your moods and feelings are full of spiritual meaning. Nothing is so trivial that it’s meaningless. What do you think about while sitting in traffic or waiting in a long line at the grocery store? What’s your frame of mind while doing boring and repetitive chores? You’ll be surprised at how significant such moments can be when you really look at them.

So here’s an easy way to pray the Examen. It should just take 10 minutes every day. I advised my friend that a perfect time to do it is while you are completing the “shutting down” tasks before you go to bed — between when you shut the lights off in the house/check the door locks and when you head for your bedroom.

  1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day. Even if your day seems to be a blur, a jumble, a muddle, ask the Divine to bring clarity and understanding.
  2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walkthrough your day and note the joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Divine in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?
  4. You may be shown and remember some ways that you fell short. Make note of these times, but look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out in some way.
  5. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Divine to direct you to something during the day that is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or
    gratitude.
  6. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek guidance from the Divine. Ask for help and understanding. Pray for hope.

That’s it! Give it a try and let us know what you think.

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