The Daily Examen is an intimate and meditative prayerful reflection on ones day. It helps us see & sense God’s presence in our moments and discern his direction for us. The Holy Spirit leads us in our posture of thankfulness, openness, sorrow, and longing for God.
There is not one singular approach to an examen. This examen is informed by “Spiritual Exercises” by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The Examen is not a time of self reflection. Rather, it is a form of spiritual contemplation.
This guide will take you through the foundation of where the Examen comes from, and then will lead you into a practical guide to practice the Examen, either on your own or to lead in a group.
A Short History
The examen has its roots in the mid 16th century with St. Ignatius of Loyola. Even before the founding of what would become the Jesuits in Paris, Ignatius had written and was leading others through his ‘Spiritual Exercises’. This was intended to be a 4 week period of intense prayer and meditation (4-5 hours a day), and isolation. Each week had a theme.
The first week starts with our own sin and bringing us into the depths of hell. Leading us to turn to Christ, and asking these three questions:
- What have I done for Christ?
- What am I doing for Christ?
- What ought I do for Christ?
The second week encourages us to move to imitate Christ.
The third week is a time of mystical identification with Christ’s sufferings, marked by the desire to weep and grieve with him.
The fourth week is a period of joyful communion with the risen Christ.
God’s Presence in the Examen
God is present in the Daily Examen because the heart of the examen is the invitation we extend to God. We must long to both see Gods presence in our life, and too, long for refinement into who God knows and hopes for us to become.
Deeper Dive into the Practice
There are 5 Steps to praying the daily examen. Each step will involve a time of either contemplation or meditation.
Contemplation invites us into quiet stillness in the presence of God.
Meditation invites us to active engagement with a text, or with the current reflections.
We’ll use an illustrative metaphor to help us hold these steps together. That of a light being turned on in our room previously in darkness.
The 5 Steps are:
- Inviting Gods Light
Imagine that you are in a pitch black room. There is no light, and you can barely sense your own presence in the space. (1) As we start the examen we pray, inviting Gods light to join us. The Holy Spirit illuminates the whole room in a warm glow. This first step lets us contemplate. As we invite God to join us, He invites us to rest in the knowledge and experience of His presence with us. We let our eyes adjust to the light, we feel the warmth from the light, and simply enjoy God within us.
[ Pause. Spend time inviting God to join you.]
After a few minutes we start taking notice of the room around us. (2) Gratitude is our first response as we see with growing clarity all that God has done for us. We meditate, dwelling and thinking upon all that comes to us. Gratitude to be grafted into the covenant. The irrevocable gift of Himself in Christ. For the gift of our new family in Christ, and all the new siblings we have. Gratitude for all that I am, for all that I have become, and for my failings in Christ.
[Pause. Spend time in Gratitude.]
(3) You notice to the side, the light reflecting off a number of surfaces. Just as the light bounces around the room, the loving presence and action of God is seen in our reflection. Only through reflection can we see what we did not at the time see. We let God reveal to us the ways He was present that we did not see. Just as we see ourselves in a mirror we come face to face with the illusion that we guide our own steps, manage our own lives, and are able to See God in all things. This reflection has the power to set us free from ourselves.
[Pause. Spend time in Reflection.]
As we look down at ourselves (4) we turn to sorrow. A sorrow the comes from the gift of being truly aware of ourselves. A sorrow which grieves for the ways we have failed to see or respond to Gods love at work in me. That fails to let the wonderful creator guide, lead, and shape me.
[Pause. Spend time in that grief and Sorrow.]
Finally we look off to the wall, and see that the light is spilling out into the next room. (5) That we see what is to come, the path being illuminated before us. We understand that the giver of all the gifts of our life, has more gifts to give. That in the path for us in these coming hours is prepared by our generous God.
[Pause. Spend time focusing on what is to come.]
Guide to Practicing the Examen
Inviting God’s Light
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
Rest in the knowledge and presence of God within you. Think of the gifts the spirit gives freely to us: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal.5:22)
God is with us always, and never leaves us. Reflect with gratitude on the ways God has been present with you, and in the ways he has invited you to be present with him.
All that I have is yours. (John 17:10)
Pause, and spend time in gratitude.
- For the covenant: God’s irrevocable gift of Himself to me in Christ; His gift of everyone as a brother and sister.
- For myself: chosen with these qualities and failings in Christ.
- For everything: even the harsh and painful aspects of life which lead me to the Father through the Cross and Resurrection of His Son.
Some further questions to meditate on:
- What have I got to be grateful for today?
- What wonderful things of God has he placed in who I am?
- How gracious was Christ with me as I have failed?
- What harsh, painful aspects of life invite me to identify with Christ in his suffering?
- How am I becoming more grateful and contented?
Look back upon how I responded to God’s loving presence and action in my life. Let this meditation tear down the illusion that we manage our own lives, and with that illusion the ego, pride, and vanity with it.
Pause, and spend time in reflection.
- How was I drawn to God today: a friend, event, written word, beauty of nature?
- Have I learnt anything about God and His ways: in ordinary occasions, spare moments?
- Did I meet Him in: fear, joy, work, misunderstanding, weariness, suffering?
- Did His Word come alive in: prayer, scriptures, liturgy?
- Did I bring Christ to my community? Did they bring Christ to me?
- Have I been a sign of God’s presence and love to the people I met today?
- Did I go out to: the lonely, the sorrowful, the discouraged, the needy?
- Was I aware of God’s work in my own city, my country, in other nations of the world, in the Church at large?
- Have I had a keener sense of being loved, of sinfulness, of desire to give back what I have received, of dependence?
- Is there some part of my life still untouched by Jesus Christ and where He is calling me to a change of heart?
True self awareness is a gift given in love. Given to us by our heavenly Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Divine sorrow lacks shame or blame. It rises up in my longing to be present with God in each moment, action, in myself, and in my becoming. Let me express sorrow for the ways I have failed to see or respond to Gods love at work in myself.
Pause, and spend time in that sorrow.
Let this awareness lead us towards:
- Wonder at always being brought and welcomed home.
- Joy and gratitude because I share in the victory of Christ.
- A increasing mistrust of self and trust in God.
- Serene acceptance of my weakness.
- Overwhelming gratitude that God continues to transform me from a sinner into a child of God.
God has given us gifts in the past and the future. Each moment in the coming hours will be full of gifts and of their Giver.
Pause, and spend time focusing on tomorrow.
Some questions to reflect on:
- How will I face the future with God?
- With apathy, distaste, fear, despondency?
- Which parts of my life particularly call for the Lord’s healing and protection?