I am leading a new “Contemplative Cohort,” and this is their assignment for the month, so I am also posting it on this blog. I have shared about the Awareness Examen with many of you, but this gives more context to why I think the Awareness Examen is so important!
I find one of the greatest ways to notice is through the Ignatian Examen. I have no doubt that you are familiar with it, but here is what I wrote in my manual for the Ignatian Exercises. (Contact me if you ever want to do the Exercises with me. I start a “Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL)” Group every September. It follows the liturgical calendar until a few weeks after Easter of the following year.)
A key part of getting to the bottom of your God-given desires is to establish a daily pattern of praying the Prayer of Examen. I first heard of this prayer in 1992 when I read Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster: “In the examen of consciousness we prayerfully reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of our days to see how God has been at work among us and how we responded” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 28). The chapter did not have an impact on me because I did not think I needed this type of prayer. I wasted a lot of years of growth by not at least trying it out!
Many years later, I was given a “user-friendly” handout about it, and it clicked. Here is my first Examen:
Gifts received throughout the day:
Review of my Day: (I mapped out my day from rising to going to bed)
Where did I feel most alive and responsive to God? (Consolation) – Connecting with someone I have been praying for and continued connection for another person. I am most alive when I see answered prayer, especially when I pray with others.
Where did I feel most dead and unresponsive to God? (Desolation) – I honestly cannot think of anything. (I got better at discerning this as I did this more. Pay attention to your EMOTIONS. Do not deny them. Where did I feel anger, fear, worry, etc.?)
Imagine one practical thing that I can commit to doing the next day that will express my love for God and others – Make Challah bread and listen to whom God would have me give it to.
Update the Next Day – I followed through, and God blessed me big time. I got up early to make the Challah bread not knowing to whom I would give it. I thought that I might give it to the training group that was coming over that morning, but he told me to take the bread to the mosque where about ten ladies gathered at noon. They had a little teaching time, and then they brought the bread I had brought out with other treats. The leader said, “Oh, in Syria, giving bread means giving love. Did you know that when you thought to bring it?”
I told her, “No, all I know is that I prayed and asked God what I could do to express love today, and he told me specifically to bake bread and would show me who I was to give it to. And he told me to bring it to you.”
The ladies in the mosque squealed with delight!
I continued the Examen through the remainder of that year, but I quit praying it consistently until ten months later when God woke me up early one Saturday and said, “Read A Simple Life-Changing Prayer.” I devoured this book about Examen Prayer in one sitting, convinced by the end of the importance of praying this daily. The author, Jim Manny, wrote that he was NOT good at doing it at the END of the day and did it the following morning. That was my biggest hang-up. I would start it at bedtime and fall asleep! Mornings are better for me, and I like being reminded of my life-giving consolations and deadening desolations from the previous day as I head into…the new day. But doing it at night leads to a very peaceful sleep. Do whatever works for you. Ignatius said, “Let’s do the doable!”
Through the Examen, I see the beauty of looking at my feelings of consolation (life-giving, full of God’s light) and desolation (deadening and devoid of light) daily rather than waiting to sort things out after I had stuffed them and then had a crisis. Finding him in the midst of these feelings has been so eye-opening and helpful for growth and transformation. Whether you are a “feeling” type of person or not, it is good to get in touch with God-given feelings so that you can get to those God-given desires underneath! By the way, finding God in all things is another pillar of the Exercises and Ignatian spirituality. (The others are seeking freedom and detachment, becoming a contemplative in action, and looking at the world in an incarnational way [The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, p.10].)
The most important thing is to pay attention to God’s presence in your life and be open to his consoling presence showing up in unexpected, “non-spiritual” places. When doing an Examen with a retreat group, I mentioned that one of my greatest experiences of consolation from the day before was playing Ultimate Frisbee on the beach with them. One woman said, “That never would have been something that I would have considered as a consolation.” I explained that the beautiful setting of God’s Creation, playing with people I love who are made in God’s image and moving the body he gave me were all things that brought great joy, thankfulness, and exhilaration to my heart. God’s presence was all over that. She had a new perspective. God is everywhere, and the Examen helps us to be aware of his presence in every moment of every day, not just in our structured prayer times. God is constantly trying to get our attention. Keep noticing him everywhere, and you will begin looking at the world in an incarnational way…This simply means believing that God can be found in the everyday events of our lives, even in an Ultimate Frisbee game on the beach!
Below is a guide for a general Examen and an app suggestion for more creative Examens. Then there is a guide for leading others in your community through the Examen.
When I first started this practice, I journaled it and saw big patterns that helped me discern my calling. Do what works for you. Keep noticing!
This can be done in the evening of your current day or the following morning as a review of the previous day. Do what works for you. Be flexible and “do the doable.” Many like to have a time of Silent Prayer before and/or after the Examen, but it is not traditionally part of it.
This prayer takes 10-15 minutes each day. The Examen Podcast with Father James Martin and the Reimagining the Examen app help get you started with this prayer. It is a blessing to do this with others too. My husband and I do it together at least once a week.
Adapted from the Order of the Mustard Seed Guide, p. 87
This is a structured prayer that allows participants the opportunity to reflect silently on a particular area of their life. Here is an example of how you might lead a group through a simple Prayer of Examen:
LEADER: “Let’s take a few moments (or any chosen period of time) to reflect on the ways we have seen God at work in our lives in the past week (day, etc.).”
LEADER: “Let’s take a couple of minutes (or any chosen period of time) to voice out loud prayers of thanksgiving.”
LEADER: “Let’s take a few moments to ask the Lord to remind us of ways we have sinned.”
LEADER: “If you are comfortable, speak anything that may have come to mind, but also feel free to acknowledge any sin silently to the Lord.” (You can just have them acknowledge silently and leave out the out-loud acknowledgment.)
1 Jn 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Lord, thank you for your forgiveness. I pronounce the freedom of forgiveness over us. Help us to turn to the light of your presence in the coming day.”
Now, let’s ask God for how he might have us show love in the coming days.”
There is a Group Examen open to the public on Zoom. Let me know if you want the link. It uses the “Reimagining the Examen” to lead groups through different kinds of Examen Prayers. Click under “Media Formats” to find the link to the Apple and Android Apps.
While you are NOTICING, it will lead to much THANKSGIVING. This is perfect in your lead into the US Holiday of Thanksgiving!
Enjoy and much love, Carol Ann