As I’ve been thinking about prayer over the past several weeks, I’ve also taken stock of my own prayer life. Too often for me (and I suspect this becomes the case for many) prayer becomes routine. Every morning, I take time to read the Bible, and to read from another theological work. Prayer usually gets sandwiched between these two times of reading. Many times I don’t know what to pray for. Who to pray for is not a problem; only a few moments of reflection will quickly bring to mind plenty of people and situations for whom and for which I ought to be praying. But what to pray for – what to ask God to do for this people or in those situations – often becomes stale and unthoughtful.
As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve been finding myself confronted with my own unbelief. Do I actually belief God answers these prayers? Do I believe that God is listening? I concluded that I needed to find concrete ways to experience what God was doing in my midst and how God was answering prayers I was praying. So, I decided to practice the examen.
The examen is a spiritual exercise taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola. You can read a more detailed explanation of what examen is and looks like in practice here. A basic explanation of the examen is that it’s time spent consciously in God’s presence at the end of the day. It includes reviewing the events of your day and giving thanksgiving for the gifts God gave, and searching your own conscious and heart in the decisions you made.
Though I’m still not perfectly disciplined in practicing the examen – I’m rarely able to practice it multiple days in a row – I’ve hoped that practicing the examen would help me to see what God is doing in my life. It’s helped in that, but what I’ve noticed more is how practicing the examen has changed the way I go through my day. Since practicing the examen, I’ve found myself more deliberately recognizing what God is doing as He’s doing it.
The examen has disciplined me in practicing the presence of God throughout my day. I’m still far from able to do this perfectly. In fact I’m still rarely able to be fully present to God’s work in my midst for more than an hour. Nevertheless, I think this is the real benefit of practicing the examen. Being able to see how God is at work in hind sight is a blessing, but seeing God at work in the present makes the previous reflection worthwhile.