Since the New Year began I have added another new element to my prayer time: the daily Examen. This is an adaptation from the technique that St. Ignatius used and outlined in his “Spiritual Exercises”, and one, which I have found quite helpful… but also very difficult.
It is difficult because it challenges you to slow down, thank God for at least one thing every day, look at your emotions, examine one emotion carefully, and trust in God to give you strength for the day to come. If you think about it, that is a lot to pack into one prayer time! Just the amount of emotions that we go through every day can give you quite a lot to pick through and review.
Yet, like anything that is difficult the payoff is huge. It can be very difficult to be honest with God about our feelings, mostly because if we’re honest with ourselves we do not want to think about those “downer” parts. I mean wouldn’t it be easier to sit down, eat some organic ice cream, and watch Netflix shows rather than re-hash possibly the worst part of your day? Yeah, I know. I have been there. It would be easier to give up.
But do you want to discover who you really are? Do you want to finally start wrestling with those things that go through your head on a daily basis? Do you want to bring wounds and lies to light and allow Christ to embrace you and hold you up in your weakness? The Examen is difficult but I have found that it brings with it the ability for great healing.
When you begin slowing down, experiencing God’s presence, leafing through your feelings, digging deep, and asking God to be with you as you continue you will find much brokenness, and shortcomings on your part. Through all this do not despair; God is bringing to light the things that the devil wants to keep hidden! If we do not begin taking a closer look at our own brokenness, how can we possibly find healing? The last thing the devil wants is for you to bring that brokenness and those wounds to the light. Once those things come to light, healing follows.
The Examen is quite simple and you can find many different variations. This is the version that I have been using:
- Become aware of God’s presence- start with the sign of the cross and say the prayer slowly taking in the fact that you are invoking the trinity to be with you. Acknowledge that God is omnipresent, in every time and in every place searching for an opportunity to be with us.
- Show gratitude- as you become aware of God’s presence, thank Him for all He has done in your life. What are the blessings that have occurred in the past 24 hours? In difficult times where have you found grace? Where did you notice God’s presence? Thank God for all these things and more! I have found that journaling this part of the Examen is a phenomenal way to keep track of your blessings.
- Pay attention to your emotions- this next step can be very difficult. If it is easier begin with the pleasant or positive emotions and then move to the negative ones, or negative to positive. If even that seems daunting begin with everything since your last Examen. Go slowly through this part. I would say that journaling this part of the Examen is almost necessary as you can look back and see emotions popping up throughout the weeks which will help when you choose one to examine more closely.
- Examine one of your emotions- take one of the emotions you have and examine it more carefully. If you have been journaling for step three of your Examen this can be made simpler as you can look back at emotions that come up more often and start praying about why that may be. There may be lies that you need to give to God behind negative emotions or even greater gratitude for positive emotions.
- Look ahead as you make a closing prayer- sometimes you can feel overwhelmed when you reach the end of your Examen which is why it is important to ask God to continue to guide you into the next day, filled with ups and downs. If you are afraid as you look to the next day bring that to God, and if you are full of joy at the prospects to come then give that to Him as well. Ask for the courage, joy, peace, fortitude and any other virtues or gifts you need for the day. Then you can pray the Our Father or a prayer of your own.
Never forget that the most important part of this, and any, prayer is encountering the love of Jesus Christ. I hope that above all in this New Year you I hope you may encounter that love daily.
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” –Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 3