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  • Writer's pictureJean Brender

The Examen: Reflecting on Your Day With God


Have you ever reviewed your day while mindful of the presence of God? In his book on You Are What You Love, James Smith emphasizes the importance of reflecting on the daily rhythms of our lives and suggests engaging in the daily examen, a practice introduced by Ignatius of Loyola (1491– 1556), founder of the Jesuit Order (1). The daily examen has been described as the regular practice of coming into the presence of God to reflect when, where, and how we have sensed God’s presence and absence during our day (2,3).


In developing the examen, Ignatius of Loyola wanted a practice to help people cultivate a frame of mind “that is constantly attuned to God’s presence and responsive to God’s leading” (4). Starting out as ‘The General Examination of Conscience’ developed by Ignatius, the examen has evolved over the past five hundred years to several present forms that retain, for the most part, the essence and purposes Ignatius envisioned.


Scripture gives support to engaging in the practice of examen, especially in Psalm 139. David asks, “Examine me, God! Look at my heart! Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).


So, how do we go about engaging in the examen? The modern forms of this spiritual practice usually have five movements which have some variations of content from one another. I will share two examples in this blog, the first that was shared with our church congregation (Protestant) and the second from Timothy Gallagher, an American Catholic priest who has published a book about the examen prayer.


The five movements of the examen prayer shared by the church leadership in my community of faith include: coming into the presence of God; expressing gratitude for one or two specific things that day; reviewing the day with respect to noticing God’s presence, our emotions, and what went on in our relationships; choosing and praying for one experience for that day; and praying for what is ahead for the next day (5). In the fourth movement, praying for a particular experience may include prayers of repentance, gratitude, praise, and/or intercession.


In his book on the examen, Timothy Gallagher recommends to engage first in an intentional movement into the prayer of examen by focusing on God’s love for us. He then outlines the following five movements (6):


1. Gratitude. We note the gifts that God has given us out of His love and give thanks to God for them.

2. Petition. We acknowledge the need for God’s help in having insight and strength to make the examen “a work of grace.”

3. Review. We review our day, including the stirrings within us, our thoughts, and choices.

4. Forgiveness. We ask for “the healing touch of the forgiving God.”

5. Renewal. We look forward to the following day and, “with God, plan how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for our lives.”


Drawing from my own experience, I have found the examen transformative in my spiritual journey. Engaging in the daily examen has served as a reminder to give thanks to God for his love and gifts. It has helped me become more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to pray for others. Through it, I have gained greater insight into my relationship with God and the people around me. Most of all, it has deepened my trust in God’s goodness and love for us.


In her handbook on the spiritual disciplines, Adele Calhoun suggests that practicing the daily examen “provides a way of noticing where God shows up in our day” (7). When, where, and how have you sensed God’s presence today, this year, and in your lifetime?


Cited:


1. James K.A. Smith, You are What You Love (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016), 54.

2. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 95.

3. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 52.

4. Jim Manney, The Prayer That Changes Everything: Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen (Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2011), Chapter 1. The Examen in a Nutshell (Kindle edition).

5. Covenant Presbyterian Church, Daily Examen (For Evening Use), email to congregation, September 27, 2021.

6. Timothy M. Gallagher, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2006), An Outline of the Examen (Kindle edition).

7. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 53.

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