Welcome to the second week of the Ignatius and Me series! In honor of the feast of St Ignatius, which is coming up on July 31st, I’ve asked some friends to write about what Ignatian spirituality means to them in their daily lives. Each week will look at a different principle or prayer of Ignatian Spirituality, introduced with an excerpt from my book, Busy Lives and Restless Souls and then followed by a friend’s personal interpretation.
From Busy Lives & Restless Souls:
Typically, there are five steps to the Examen. The organized planner that I am really likes that there are five steps—that when I complete one, I can move on to the next, and then the next, and then the next until my prayer is complete. And while there are five simple steps to the Examen, what occurs in this small prayer is quite powerful. It is not simply a process of running through a memorized prayer, spouting off words without much thought or purpose. Rather, it is a prayer of intentional reflection on your day that literally involves bringing your entire life before God and praying about it.
So, what are the steps?
The Five Steps of the Examen
The Examen’s simple five steps are as follows:
Bringing Myself to God
This week, fellow spiritual director Faye Coorpender shares about her experience with the Examen.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. In this step, you place yourself in the presence of God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see your day as God sees it. Often my step one sounds something like this: “Holy Spirit, give me your eyes to see my day, your ears to understand my day, your heart to view my day.”
- Be thankful. Look back over your past twenty-four hours, and name all that you are thankful for: the people you encountered within the past day, something inspiring or encouraging that you witnessed, a pleasure you enjoyed such as a good meal, the people who love you, such as family and friends. With Jesus’s help, name all the gifts and thank God for them.
- Notice God’s presence. Look backward over your day, hour by hour, and name where you felt an increase of faith or hope or love. Be specific about what you were doing and whom you were with when this happened. Notice what was happening within you as you recall each moment of your day. Here are some examples:
- a meaningful conversation with someone
- a moment at work when you really enjoyed what you were doing
- a song you heard or book you read or TV show you saw
- something you saw in nature
- a line of Scripture or a prayerLook over your day and identify when you felt the fruit of the Spirit. Try to be mindful of what you were doing when you felt the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentle- ness, or self-control. What is God saying to you in these moments?
- Notice the lack of God’s presence. Look backward again over your day, hour by hour, and identify where you felt a decrease in faith, hope, or love. Be specific about what you were doing when you noticed this decrease. Ask, Why did I experience a decrease in faith, hope, or love at that moment? You can follow up with the following questions:
5. Look to the future. Turning to your next twenty-four hours, ask God to give you what you need for your tasks and responsibilities in those hours. Resolve that with God’s grace you will do better tomorrow in certain areas than you did today. Then close your prayer with an Our Father.
- Did I not choose love?
- Did I not act the way I wanted?
- Did God seem absent or hidden in these moments? Why? Was it because of my choice or action? Another’s person’s choice or action?
- Why am I struggling to name God in these moments?
- What is God saying to me about them?In this step, ask God’s forgiveness for the places where you chose not to love or act the way you wanted.
I have a set time and a designated space for prayer. I love my daily prayer routine. I bring my first cup of coffee of the day to my prayer space and I light a candle, then, using my iPad, I read the scriptures for the day. I also read a reflection on the gospel. From there, I’m on my own. Where will my prayer go? Sometimes it’s effortless, a verse or two of the day’s readings might touch me and I hear a message for me within those verses. If I’m lucky, those few verses inspire me and I thank God for the grace that he has given me in my prayer time.
But this scenario is not guaranteed; in fact, it’s not even predictable! As often as not, I open my iPad and see an email that I decide to answer right away, or worse, some retailer entices me to go to their website. When I eventually pull myself away from whatever temptation I’ve succumbed to, I find it almost impossible to quiet myself enough to reflect on scripture. When this happens, when my prayer feels dry or I feel far from God, I turn to the Examen.
When I pray the Examen, I bring myself to God just as I am, fully alive, fully human, with all my faults and my joys. Meeting God in the Examen reminds me of time spent with my husband. With my husband, I talk about my day and he listens and responds. If my day has gone well, we share light-hearted conversation and laughter. If I’ve had a bad day, I tell him the struggles of my day and he might give me a word of advice or encouragement, but mostly he is just there, sharing my burden. The Examen works in much the same way as God and I spend time together in prayer.
Here’s how God recently met me in the Examen on one particular day.
This day during prayer, I prayed with the Reimagining the Examen app
based on Mark Thibodeaux’s book
. The reflection of the day was titled “Aces and Deuces.
” In the introduction, the author explained that this Examen dealt with “your unique set of gifts and weaknesses” – “the ‘hand of cards’ you have been dealt.” As I prayed this “Aces and Deuces” Examen, I thanked God for the “aces” I was given that day: joy-filled time at the park with my grandsons and a Spirit-filled time listening to a directee. Then, reflecting on the “deuces” that I had been dealt that day, I saw that my ego was preventing me from spending time writing my blog
, something that I ordinarily love doing but was dreading because I feared not being “good enough.” In other words, desire for perfection was standing in the way of using one of my God-given talents.
After identifying my aces and deuces, I reflected on how the aces were for the good of others! Here, I truly felt God’s presence. I felt my friend, God, beside me, showing me how my gifts had benefited others. My grandchildren felt my love, and my directee had been open to seeing how God was acting in her life.
When I honestly evaluated the deuces in my hand, instead of leaving me discouraged, God asked me to let go of my fear and to trust that he would be with me in my writing. I felt encouraged. With unexpected ease, I accomplished the writing task that had previously seemed daunting and impossible. Right now, you are reading the result of that day’s prayer time!
What cards are in the hand that you were dealt today? Where will you find God in your review of the aces and deuces in your hand? Take your day to him. Rest in his presence. The only thing you need for prayer is an honest and open heart. God will provide the rest.
Cultivating Space for God Together: