The examen prayer has always seemed like a good idea to me, but, despite googling it and searching for it in Wikipedia, I’ve been confused and the practise has remained a mystery to me. Until now, my understanding of the examen prayer comes from hearing snippets of Fr Timothy Gallagher, who I sometimes hear talking about Ignatian spirituality on Catholic radio.
This Lent, I have resolved to finally learn more about the examen. I added Fr Timothy Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer, to my Amazon wishlist. On Valentine’s Day, I unwrapped an Ignatian-themed Valentine’s gift from my husband (A perfect Valentine’s-Ash Wednesday mash-up gift!). This Lent, I hope to slowly work through the book, and share what I learn here.
Why learn the examen prayer?
The examen prayer is a powerful spiritual tool. With regular practice, it can help people be better able to discern spirits, recognise God’s abundent love in the course of a day, review the day through the lens of God’s love and mercy, and simply put, be able to recognise God in the every day. The examen prayer is such an important practice, Pope Francis even makes time daily to pray it.
To begin, an outline of the examen’s outline may be helpful;
Transition– becoming aware of God’s love for me
- Gratitude– noting the gifts God has given me today and thanking Him for them
- Petition– asking God for the grace and strength to make the examen a work of grace
- Review– review the day with God
- Forgiveness– asking for God’s forgiveness and healing
- Renewal– look at the next day and plan how to live according to God’s loving desire
Transition– be aware of God’s presence within me
Step One: Gratitude
Ever seen a #gratefultweet on Twitter? (sometimes simply a grateful tweet, or, some individuals resolve to make their first tweet of the day a grateful tweet, every day). Know someone who keeps a gratitude journal? Ever read about scientific studies on gratitude? From improving sleep and mental health to improving relationships and self-esteem, a little gratitude can go a long way.
Secular studies aside, let’s get back to our spiritual master, St Ignatius himself.
According to St Ignatius, the first step in the examen prayer is “to give thanks to the God our Lord for the benefits received” (Spiritual Exercise 43). This first step reviews God’s gifts during the day, with gratitude. This act of thanksguvung helps us to experience God as a giving God. God is continuosly bombarding us with love, grace and gifts. Are we open to receive them? Are we even aware of them? Imagine God’s happiness when, instead of ignoring these gifts or are oblivious to them, we are grateful for them and thank Him. Fr. Timothy explains,
Gratitude opens a window into the deepest reality of our spiritual lives: God’s unbounded love for us and desire for our response, in love, to the love revealed in this giving.
Through achnowledging these gifts, we are able to recognise God’s personal love for us, and sense His loving presence in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Fr. Timothy advises us not to hurry past this step:
For Ignatius… recognising God’s loving gifts and recognising God’s loving presence through them- summarised in the word “gratitude”- lies at the very heart of our relationship with God.
This week, I will focus on this first step of the examen prayer before moving onto the next step, petition.
- Begin a gratitude journal, writing down a few things few things for which to be grateful at the end of every day
- Set a couple of alarms on my phone (perhaps 11am and 4pm?). These alarms will serve the purpose of reminding me of God’s abundent love for me, and promt me to pause and reflect on the gifts God has already given me
- Re-read chapter on this step in The Examen Prayer book