This article was also published in Wesley TIDINGS, October 2021.
Psalm 139:23-24 says:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Isn’t it true that during this pandemic, all of us have had to adjust and adapt to the fluid situation? Working adults have to adjust to working from home while students have to adjust to home-based learning. We have to adhere to safe distancing measures and restrictions in our social interactions with family, friends and colleagues. Our weekend discipline of attending on-site communal worship evolved to attending online worship services from home.
The myriad of changes, distractions and anxieties during this prolonged pandemic can lead to dissonance in our inner life and disconnection from God. Scripture repeatedly calls us to be watchful over our hearts (Lamentations 3:40, Proverbs 4:23, 1 Peter 5:8, 2 Corinthians 13:5), due to the human propensity to stray from God, even without us knowing (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 139:23-24). In this Year of Sabbath-Rest, let’s be intentional to make time to be still in the Lord’s presence, and to ask Him to search our heart (Psalm 139:23-24) — in short, to practise the rhythm of Rest, Reflect and Renew.
Discipline of Examen
This is where the discipline of Examen can be helpful. The Examen is an ancient Christian practice to nurture a consciousness of the presence of God in our day and how we have responded to His presence. It is called Examen (from a Latin word which means ‘examination’). But rather than it being an examination, it is more like a review of the day to help us find God in our lives.
Examen is associated with the Jesuits because its founder, the Spanish monk Saint Ignatius, had designed the daily spiritual exercise. Ignatius considered it the most important thing a person could do each day. Although the Daily Examen originated from Ignatian spirituality, it draws from ancient Christian practices. In a similar vein, John Wesley developed a list of reflective questions for Methodists to review the day, whether alone or in groups. Both spiritualities view honest self-examination with God’s help, as a means of grace to experience God’s forgiveness, guidance and transformation for holy living.
The Jesuits practise the Examen twice daily — at noon and at the end of the day. It takes about 15 minutes each time, and can be done anywhere, but preferably somewhere private and quiet. The approach is based on the insight that it is easier to recognise God in retrospect rather than in the immediate moment. Just as an airplane leaves a vapour trail in the sky, God leaves a trail of experience in our lives. The key to finding God is to search for evidence in our trail of experience. It is rooted in the belief that God is constantly revealing Himself to us in our experience.
Practising the Examen
The Examen is a simple prayer with five easy steps1:
Begin by counting our blessings and thanking God for all the things we are grateful for today. Recall and relish each blessing, from the really big ones to the really small ones. As we slowly savour each blessing as if it were a satisfying meal, we pause to enjoy what has happened so that it deepens our gratitude to God.
Request God’s Holy Spirit to lead us through our review of the day. We need God’s help to discern His presence and leading, as well as our flaws and failings realistically, from the perspective of His merciful love.
Next is the review of our day. Here, we recall all the events of our day identifying the following:
I. where and when we have sensed God’s presence, and
II. those moments when we responded positively to God or moments where we rejected any
invitation from Him.
Following the step of reviewing our day, this fourth step offers us the chance to repent and to cry out for God’s forgiveness and restoration. As you ask for forgiveness, you will sense His healing mercy washing over you, cleansing you and making you whole.
Finally, we end by resolving to live well tomorrow. Considering what the Lord has revealed in the earlier parts, we now ask God to show us concretely how He wants us to respond or what He wants us to do tomorrow. We also ask for insight into what graces we might need to live the next day well, i.e. more patience, wisdom, self-knowledge, peace, faith and faithfulness.
In conclusion, allow me to quote Jim Manney on the Daily Examen:
This was a prayer that focused on God’s presence in the real world. It looked to a God who was near to me, present in my world, and active in my life. It told me to approach prayer with gratitude, not guilt. It helped me find God in my life as I lived it, not in some heavenly realm beyond space and time.2
May you be blessed and grow deep as you encounter the God who is with us in our Daily Examens.3
1This 5R mnemonic (a memory aid) method is developed by Mark E. Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux, M. E. (2015). Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day. Loyola Press.
2Jim Manney, J. (2011) A Simple Life Changing Prayer: Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen. Loyola Press.
3You may wish to watch our Holy Monday Service this year on YouTube for a teaching and practice session on the Examen.