Reflecting on our lives is the heart of spiritual direction. Our life is where we meet and experience the Source of all life, so looking at where we’ve been and what we’ve become is how we develop awareness of the Spirit’s way of being with us.
There is no better prayer practice for reflection than the Ignatian Examen, sometimes called the Awareness Examen or just the Examen. It is precisely what its name implies—an examination (the loving, gentle kind) of a period of time in our life.
Ignatius of Loyola (16th century mystic and founder of the Jesuit Catholic order) called this the most important prayer of all for members of his order. When they became busy and overwhelmed with work, some of them wanted to cut back on prayer. Ignatius told them they could cut back all prayers except this one!
It’s an important prayer for people who want to live in continuous discernment of God’s desire for their life. Do it every day, preferably at night. Go over your day (or the last 24 hours) in silence and prayer asking yourself two questions that will lead you into a time of quiet listening for whatever God may want to say to you. Here’s a wonderful adaptation of the Examen from the book Sleeping with Bread by Dennis Linn, Matthew Linn and Sheila Fabricant Linn (Paulist Press, 1995).
- Make yourself comfortable and set aside some quiet time for this prayer. You may want to light a candle or ring a chime to invite yourself into contemplation.
- Rest into silence for a few moments.
- Ask God’s Spirit to lead you through your day.
- Review your day.
- If you could make any one moment last longer, which would it be? What happened in that moment that made it so life-giving? Sit with that moment and allow it to give you life again. Offer your gratitude to God for that moment.
- If you could go back and alter any one moment in your day, which would it be? What made that moment so difficult? Sit with that moment in the light of God’s love and allow yourself to feel whatever emotion you have. Offer that moment to God for healing.
- Make a note of these two moments in your day.
- Take time for silence. Allow the Spirit to speak to you and allow you to learn from these moments.
- End by giving thanks to God for all the ways God has been with you—through the joy and the pain.
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