Thursday, March 17, 2011

Examining the Examen

I gave a Lenten reflection at a nearby parish earlier this week, "Meeting Christ in the Everyday." My starting point was that Christ, having pitched his tent among us to become "God in the everyday," desires to meet us in the everyday. I suggested two practices which help me sharpen my awareness of the ways in which I meet God walking among us: the Examen, and a willingness to grasp the chance to be still when it presents itself at moments scattered through my day — or at least not multi-task!

There was a delightful and lively discussion after the talk, mostly centered around the practice of the Examen, which was new to many of the listeners. A commenter on an earlier post this week wondered if I might write a bit more here, as well.

So what is the Examen? For Catholics, it might be best to start with what it is not: it's not an examination of conscience. It's not an exercise directed solely at figuring out where one has "missed the mark" or sinned. It is an exercise of reflecting with God. It's immediate; this is about today - not three weeks ago. It strives for a sense of gratitude, not judgement. It seeks awareness, not condemnation.

Yes, I sometimes wince at what I've done before God, but I also laugh and delight and am in awe at what God has done before me.

The directions for making the Examen are often laid out in five steps (sometimes I think Ignatius is the saint of the organized). Here's the description I gave, but there are many other ways to frame the practice.

1. Place yourself in the presence of God. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let the Light of Christ shine on your day.
2. Review the past day (or morning), hour by hour. Don’t bounce around. I find it too easy to let something slide by when I skip around my day.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. What did you feel at the time? What did your day look like through God's eyes?
4. Choose one bit of the day and pray from it. Talk to God about it. Be frank. Ask advice. Listen.
5. Look forward. What will be difficult tomorrow, this afternoon? Where should you be on the lookout for joy to break out? Where do you most want God’s help and steadfast spirit to be present?
End by praying the Our Father.
As one woman at Monday night's event wryly noted: it's not as easy at it sounds. Personally, I think it's something that takes a lifetime of practice.

The best question asked? How has practicing the Examen changed your life? That's tomorrow's post!

Want to learn more? There are a wealth of resources for learning more about the Examen — whether you are new to the practice, or have been at it a long time — at Loyola Press' Ignatian Spirituality site.

If you want to try this practice and think verbal coaching will help, try the 8 minute audio version at Pray As You Go. (Click on the box on the left that reads "At the End of the Day"). Loyola Press is featuring a series, "The Lunchtime Examen" which is another way into the practice. (H/T to Denise in the comments!)

And if it's the examination of conscience you want to know more about — read what I'm writing at the Standard this week....


  1. Thank you for the shout out, Michelle. I look forward to your answer to how the Examen has changed your life.

  2. It's totally deserved, Denise!

    And that question, of course, is the hard one....