Before we get to the "how to" of the prayer of examen, I'd like to share with a little bit about what the practice is all about. The prayer of examen is in no way meant to be a threatening process with intention towards confession and repentance (although you may well find yourself doing that...) but rather a loving process with intention towards growing deeper spiritually and learning to recognize and receive the assistance of the Holy Spirit. In (or shall I say within?) the prayer of examen we are attempting to become more aware of God's presence and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Several years ago, I found this prayer of examen, written by Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church. I appreciate its beauty, its simplicity and its four movements of presence, gratitude, review and response. I will confess that I've adapted it a bit for ease of use.
Practicing the Prayer of Examen
This prayer of examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions (presence, gratitude, review and response), to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel the freedom to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.
Thoughts on getting started:
- A comfortable and relatively quiet location is likely the most conducive for reflecting.
- Do not rush through the experience -- as little as ten minutes could be sufficient, and you could spend more time on certain portions than others.
- It might be helpful to journal your thoughts and recollections or to write out what you notice during your times of prayer.
- Consider sharing your experiences: allow encouragement and insight from others to influence you and cheer you on, and when appropriate give the same, together striving to be an ever-faithful "community of solitudes" (A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer)
Begin this practice by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God's presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God's presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a single phrase during this time, like "Be still and know that I am God" [Psalm 46v10]. It's important to begin this practice in a calm and centered state. There are many days when you'll need the entire time to remember and focus on the nearness of God. Don't rush past this portion. Take the necessary time to wait and find comfort in God's presence.
The following scripture passage might be your prayer:
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. [Psalm 143v8b, 10]
- Take some time and focus on the nearness of God.
- Open yourself to his presence.
"If the only prayer you say in your entire life is, "Thank you," wrote Meister Eckhart, "that would suffice." As you think about the past 24 hours, what causes you to be thankful? Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit center on the goodness and generosity of God. If you're using a journal, consider capturing your thanks in writing, expressing words of gratitude and giving testimony to God's generosity and faithfulness. Find encouragement and reminders of God's goodness, and be thankful.
The following Scripture might be your prayer as you begin:
Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. [Ephesians 1v3]
- Over the past 24 hours, for what are you most grateful? What makes you feel thankful?
- Express your gratitude to God.
Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. "Where did time go?!" we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God's activity in our lives.
Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember. Allow your mind to wander the situations you've been in and to notice details.
You might begin with the following prayer:
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." [Psalm 143v8b, 10]
- When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God's action in your life? When were you resisting?
- What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you've remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward (repentance). Allow your observations to guide your responses.
You might begin with the following prayer:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd, equip you with everything good for going his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. [Hebrews 13v20-21]
- Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
- What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?