Practicing Examen as Prayer

In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
Psalm 4:4

Examen is the practice of prayerful reflection at the end of the day. It is the practice of lying on our beds and silently searching our hearts. Examen is a practice that can help us identify where we are receiving God’s help and where we are needing to ask for God’s help.

Days tend to blur into each other. Moments of grace and grief are often not given the time of reflection they need. Examen is a form of prayer that involves stopping for a few moments before we end a day to pick up the shells that washed ashore during the day so that we can pay attention to them and receive the treasures they hold.

The purpose of the prayer of examen is to help us to grow in both self awareness and in awareness of God’s presence with us each day. This prayer helps us to look for God with us in the joys and the struggles of every day life.

St. Ignatius wrote about the prayer of examen in The Spiritual Exercises. He saw the examen as a prayer that could be used by God to reveal the direction our lives were meant to take, even as it reveals on a daily basis the presence of God in the ordinary realities of life. Others have offered a simple structure for this kind of prayer. In Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, Dennis Linn, Sheila Linn and Matthew Linn suggest that we ask and answer the questions: “For what moment today am I most grateful?” and “For what moment today am I least grateful?” They offer many versions of these two questions. One might ask, “When did I feel most alive today?” and “When did I most feel life draining out of me?” Or, “What was today’s high point?” and “What was today’s low point?” (Linns, Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. Paulist Press, 1994. pgs 6-7).

When practiced on a daily basis, examining the things we are most grateful for each day can open our eyes and hearts to the many gifts God gives us each day. And the practice of examining the things that we experience as the most distressing each day can give us new wisdom and insight about things we need to let go of or change.

The practice of examen is something that parents can do with their children as they tuck them into bed. In making time for this kind of mutual sharing, the parent can offer the child support and affirmation for life’s daily challenges and blessings. It is also something that spouses or friends can do together, on a daily or weekly basis. This way of using the prayer of examen can build deeper intimacy, allowing us to share our grief and our joy with each other.

The psalmist instructs us, “when you are on your beds be still and search your hearts.” In practicing the prayer of examen, our hearts are opened in new ways to God’s presence, help and guidance.

At the end of this day quiet me.
Help me to be still.
Bring to my mind and heart
the moments when I felt
most grateful or connected to life
and the moments when I felt
most distressed or drained of life.
Remind me of what touched my heart
and what distressed me.
Help me as I reflect on these moments.
Show me whatever you wish to show me,
about me and about you.
Thank you.

Prayer suggestion:

Choose the questions that you want to ask at the end of the day. “For what moment today am I most grateful? and For what moment today am I least grateful?” Or, “When did I feel most alive today? and When did I most feel life draining out of me today?” Or, “What was today’s high point?” and “What was today’s low point?”
You may want to light a candle or ask for God to guide you as you reflect in this way about your day. You may want to keep a journal of your nightly examen, or share your reflections with someone close to you.


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