I’d like to suggest to you a little practice that you can do every day to bring a clarity and understanding of the deeper spiritual realities of your life.
It’s called the Examen. It was invented some 400 years ago by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order of priests and brothers. He developed it to help the Jesuit novices grow in their conscious union with God during the day.
It’s really quite simple (we’ll get to how you do it in a minute). It requires only the ability to remember the events of your day, but to do it in partnership with God. Picture God sitting beside you as you recall various encounters with people, any strong thoughts or feelings that happened to you during the day.
Why do this? Isn’t it just daydreaming? Wasting time? No!! Something happens. Instead of experiencing your day as one random meeting or conversation after another – – – signifying nothing. The Examen wraps a blanket of “God’s Purpose” around all these moments. It unifies our day whereby we can see how we have cooperated with God’s grace or how we may have ignored or turned away from God’s plan.
Here in brief form are the steps to the Examen. Find a quiet place, a comfortable chair, take a deep breath to relax and begin. (Remember the Holy Spirit will come with little “promptings” opening your eyes to see what God wants you to see.)
1. Call to mind that you are in the presence of God.
God made you. He has brought you to this moment. The air you breathe – – God made that. Your lungs that breathe that air – – God made those too. God loves you and wants you to see what he sees about your life.
2. Review your day from rising to the present moment.
(Steps 2,3,4 can be done in 5 or 6 minutes.)
Consider conversations you’ve had with people (people close to you and those who just happened by).
Consider thoughts you’ve had (good or bad) that come to mind as you are sitting. (Why do you think you remembered that thought?)
3. Pay attention to feelings.
Strong reactions to conversations (positive or negative) tell us something is going on here. Why the emotion? What is it telling you? Don’t force the feelings; they’ll come back to you as it pleases the Spirit. Generally there is a little realization of, “hey, that really . . . touched me, bothered me, delighted me, etc. . . .”
4. Choose one feature of the day (one conversation, one feeling).
Make that your prayer/conversation with the Lord. For example: my examen a few days ago reminded me of some intense negative feelings I’d had while talking to someone at dinner. She was expressing her opinion about something to which I disagreed. My feelings were ones set on defeating her opinion and replacing mine as the better one. I wanted to win.
The Spirit asked me to look at my reactions. Tim, why are you so combative? Why do you have to win the discussion all the time? My prayer then became, “Well Lord, I’ve done it again! I can’t just listen and try to understand another person. I have to be the one who’s right all the time. Help me learn to listen. Help me to accept people where they are. Help me to wait for You to show me what is the “helpful” word.”
5. Look toward tomorrow.
Tell God what is next in your life. What feelings come with those expectations (joy, worry, hopeful, thankful, anxious). Ask God for the grace to be “Open to the moment”. Ask for God’s help as best you can put it into words.
Tell the Lord your thanks and love for Him.
The Examen will help you find the Hand of God present in your life. Don’t be compulsive, but try to do this once a day
(best times are around noon or in the evening.)