The Examen Prayer

St. Ignatius’ Examen Prayer flows from his Spiritual Exercises and especially his theory of the discernment of spirits. It is a strikingly simple prayer that takes no longer than a few minutes to complete. The hope is to pray in this manner once or, best, twice a day.

The purpose of the Examen Prayer is to keep one vigilant or aware of God’s presence and spirit during the day. It is also a way of avoiding the possible deceptions of the evil spirit which tries to obstruct that presence.

The Examen Prayer unfolds in 5 (adaptable) steps:

  1. Pray for God’s light and grace
  2. Review the day in thanksgiving
  3. Review the feelings that surface in the replay of the day
  4. Choose one of those feelings (positive or negative) and pray from it. What does the feeling reveal about my relationship to God and others?
  5. Look forward to tomorrow
  6. (See Fr. Dennis Ham, SJ: “Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day” in America Magazine, May 14, 1994, pp. 22-23).

Fr. Ham’s article, cited above, nicely captures the spirit of the Examen. We prayerfully ‘look back’ upon our day and notice how we experienced or perhaps did not experience God. We pray from this experience—positive or negative-- in order to be attentive to God’s invitation at day’s end, while looking forward to tomorrow.

Oftentimes, we act or speak out of a negative spirit in the course of the day. The Examen Prayer, if regularly practiced, helps us to avoid such moments, knowing their ultimate origin (i.e. the evil spirit). Contrariwise, building upon positive experiences of God’s presence can strengthen us in our faith and discipleship of Christ.

The Examen Prayer, like the Spiritual Exercises, teaches us as much about ourselves as it does about God, in whose image we are created.

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