The Examen Prayer

Originally written by Cameron Abernethy for St John’s Church, Edinburgh

A friend recently shared this joke with me – ‘The Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits were having a big meeting that went well into the middle of the night. Suddenly all the lights went out in the meeting room. The Franciscans immediately took out guitars and sang songs, the Dominicans began pondering the meaning of the darkness and forming a sermon on the subject. But the Jesuits went to the basement, found the fuse box and reset the breaker.’

Putting such obvious stereotypes to one side, this joke seeks to illustrates the practical nature of Jesuit spirituality. One of the fundamental tools suggested by St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, is the Examen Prayer. The aim of this prayer is to develop a growing awareness of God within daily life and support each person in more fully living out God’s love within the world.

Over the centuries, many different wordings of the Examen prayer, also called a Review of the Day, have been written. The one below is a more contemporary version of the Examen Prayer.

Step 1: Coming into God’s Presence I settle myself for prayer, perhaps by being more aware of my breathing
Step 2:  Review the day with gratitude I allow the day to play through my mind like a video. I notice the joys of the day, no matter how small or insignificant they might appear.
Step 3:  Pay attention to your emotions I reflect on the feelings experienced today in both the joys and the sorrows. I ask what God might be showing me through these emotions.
Step 4: Stay with what seems significant I ask the Holy Spirit to bring my attention to something that God thinks is significant, no matter how small or mundane it appears.
Step 5: Look toward tomorrow I ask God for what I need for tomorrow to more fully live out God’s love in the world.

At the end of the Examen St Ignatius recommends talking to Jesus, as with a friend, about this time of prayer. In this conversation, or colloquy, it is useful to notice anything what was easy in the prayer and anything that was challenging. The time of prayer of usually concludes using the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Once familiar with the Examen prayer, it can be helpful to write one’s own version of the five steps.

More information on the Examen, including alternative versions, can be found at http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/