Year of Prayer February Prayer Practice: Examen

February 2017 ~ Prev | Intro | Next

Our prayer motto this year is "Lord, make me what you want me to be." As we try to understand how God wants to shape our characters and our actions in the future, it is necessary that we understand what has shaped our characters and our actions in the past, and where we are in the present. The prayer practice for February is a powerful aid in that process.

Nearly 500 years ago, Ignatius of Loyola developed a set of spiritual exercises arising from his own experience of trying to discern where God was active in his life. From his writings the practice of examen, or self-examination, emerged. Ignatius’s idea was that it is often difficult to see where God is or is not present in the decisions you make at the moment in which they occur. But upon reflection, it is possible to see the fruits of those actions, both in terms of how they make you feel and what consequences result from them. Ignatius, who founded the Society of Jesus, directed his monks to examine themselves three times a day to see when they could detect themselves turning toward God and when they had been turning away from God.

For non-monks, thrice daily examen can be a bit much, but during the month of February, try the practice once per day, either upon retiring, looking back at the day, or in the morning, in assessing the day before. Each week I will include different questions to prompt examination, but the basic pattern is as follows.
  1. Find a place and time for contemplation. Select the period you will examine (e.g., today).
  2. Ask yourself questions like the following, being honest with yourself and God:
    1. What am I most thankful for about the day? What am I least thankful for?
    2. When did I feel the gifts of the Spirit (love, peace, joy, life)? When did I feel hatred, turmoil, anger, despair, exhaustion? What prompted those feelings?
    3. What aspects of the day, including my actions and attitudes, attract me? What aspects, actions, attitudes repel me?
    4. When did I feel aligned with my deepest desires? When did I feel irrelevant, isolated, without purpose?
    5. What did I do or say that I am happy about? What did I do or say that makes me ashamed or remorseful?
    6. When did I sense that God was present? When did God feel absent?
  3. Sit for a while with your thoughts. You may want to write them down. What does your examination reveal about God’s presence or absence in your daily life? What do you think God is calling you toward or away from?

Susan Haddox, Lay Leader