St. Ignatius Loyola included in his Spiritual Exercises a prayer called “the Examen,” which derives from the Latin word for examination. It is a meditation with roots not only in Ignatian spirituality, but also in the spiritual practices of the ancient Stoics. There are many versions of the Examen today, but all have five steps. Here is a simple rendering of some key elements:
1. Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
3. Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
4. Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
5. Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific, and conclude with the “Our Father.”
Some versions of the Examen place a special emphasis on gratitude and feelings. A detailed example of such a meditation is offered by IgnatianSprituality.com.
The heart of the Examen is the third part: reviewing your day.
“Think of it as a movie playing in your head,” writes James Martin, S.J., in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. “Push the play button and run through your day, from start to finish, from your rising in the morning to preparing to go to bed at night. Notice what made you happy, what made you stressed, what confused you, what helped you be more loving. Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, conversations. Thoughts, words, and deeds, as Ignatius says. Each moment offers a window to where God has been in your day.”
And remember that no experience is too trivial for spiritual investigation.
“Nothing in our lives is so insignificant that it doesn’t deserve God’s attention,” notes Jim Manney in A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, a book about the Examen. “In fact, the mundane and the humdrum parts of our lives give depth and texture to our relationships with God. Washing the windows and cooking dinner are as much a part of the relationship as graduation day. If it’s part of our human experience, God is in it.”
Ignatius was emphatic about the Examen. He told the early Jesuits that if they for some reason did no other spiritual exercises, they should do this one. Then as now, the Examen is a spiritual tool for sizing up your days — and planting the seeds for a more purposeful life.