The formalized practice of this spiritual discipline dates back to the 16th century but grows out of the words and intentions recorded in Psalm 139:23-24, where the Psalmist says,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.
For centuries Christians engaged in the Prayer of Examen as a means of increased awareness of God’s presence and activity throughout the day, as well as, a means to honestly examine and review all the ways we have remained blind or indifferent to God’s presence.
Philosopher James K.A. Smith writes, “Examen is a practice for paying attention to your life: reflect on God’s presence; review your day in a spirit of gratitude; become aware of your emotions before God; pray over one feature of your day; and then intentionally look forward to tomorrow.” (James Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2016), 52.)
The Prayer of Examen is often referred to as “the practice of noticing.” It involves reviewing one’s day, in the presence of God, to observe and discern the motives and inner realities of self-protection, avoidance, denial, defensiveness, and the like, that may go otherwise unnoticed. It means pausing long enough, to “ponder the pattern my life is weaving.” (John Baillie, A Dairy of Private Prayer (New York: Fireside, 1949), 27.)
This practice of examination is not to produce self-condemnation or shame but a deepening of self-awareness in the safety of God’s love. “Facing toward God’s tenaciously faithful love frees us to start being real. In the light of God’s grace and mercy, we find the courage to look honestly at who we are.” (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 91.)
The Examen offers a way of paying attention to and dealing honestly with all the ways we have remained blind to the operation of the false self and opens up the possibility and opportunity for confession and to receive and experience healing from the inner brokenness that has shaped one’s life.
“How was God alive, active, and working in my life today?” Examen is a tenacious look for that.
With the relentless pace of life, the Examen creates space for reflection of the graces, large and seeming insignificant, that have marked our day.
The Prayer of Examen involves reviewing your day using a variety of questions.
- Where have you noticed God’s presence in your life today?
Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind when you acted out of love today, paying attention to feelings such as joy, hope, generosity, and compassion.
Here are some other helpful questions that will lead you to personal reflection and self-discovery:
- Where was God in this situation?
- What Scripture came to mind throughout my day?
- How did I sense God leading me?
- What led me toward God?
2. Where have you missed God’s presence in your life today?
In the safety of God’s love, ask God to reveal to you the events and patterns of the day that did not lead to love and freedom in Christ (such as anger, pride, jealousy, and anxiety). Some helpful questions you might ask:
- What kept me from noticing God’s presence today?
- What was motivating my response or action?
- What unresolved or undetected inner brokenness still drives me?
- In what ways did I self-protect, deny, hide, or numb myself?
The Prayer of Examen, when used regularly, keeps you from merely floating through your spiritual life and remaining at the mercy of your own drivenness. It allows you to remain attentive to the movements and activity of the Holy Spirit and all the ways He is at work restoring and healing you. Ultimately, it allows you to keep in step in the lively dance of redemption.
Spiritual Practice: Practice the Examen every day for at least one week.