The Examen is an exercise in reflecting on your lived experience. The purpose of the Examen is to help you to become aware of how God is active in your life, to see where He has been present to you in your day. To do this, you have to pause the noise of the world and, in that stillness, reflect deeply on the details of your day. In doing this, you can better cooperate with the gifts and calling that God has given you. Simply put, this way of praying allows you to find God in all things.
The Greek philosopher Socrates once said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. In the rush of modern life, it is all too easy to live unexamined lives, missing the meaningful moments that happen all around us. The Examen is a prayer that is contrary to how you ordinarily live; it requires you to stop. It calls you to become still and to listen for the voice of God. People who create this space for God to breathe into their interior lives generally find that they live more balanced lives.
There are five steps to the Examen as it appears in The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. It can roughly take 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
'To give thanks to God for the benefits received.’
Spend a few moments in gratitude for the gifts and blessings of the day.
Ask for light
‘To ask for the grace to know one’s sins and reject them.’
For St Ignatius, it is just as important to look honestly at your flaws and failings as it is to look at your strengths and successes. Ask God to enlighten you, showing you where He has been at work and present in your day through events, people, and places.
Examine the day
‘To ask an account of one’s soul from the hour of rising to the present examen, hour by hour, or from one period to another, first about thoughts, then about words, and finally about deeds’.
Review the moments of the day. Notice here what has led to consolation, what has led to desolation, and your reactions to these events, people, and places (see below on consolation and desolation).
‘To ask God our Lord for pardon for sins.’
Ask God's forgiveness for the times when you have acted, spoken, or thought contrary to His grace and invitation to you.
Resolve to change
‘To determine to do better with His grace’.
Decide what in your behaviour or attitude you will try to improve tomorrow and, as you look forward, ask God for the grace and strength you will need in the coming day.
St Ignatius’ concepts of consolation and desolation are key to praying the Examen more deeply.
Consolation is when something is deeply and genuinely good for you, good for your soul, and leads you towards God and away from selfish preoccupations.
Desolation is when something is not good for you, when you are wrapped up in yourself, careless of God's gifts and grace working in you, and when you substitute other things in place of God.
While these may be found in our thoughts and emotional responses, they are not the same as our feelings of happiness and sadness. When reflecting on your day, it can be helpful to think in these terms: What brought you consolation in your day? What brought you desolation? In doing this you will grow in self-knowledge and become better at avoiding experiences of desolation in the future.