As we round the corner into Holy Week, it’s time to look back.
So far in the Lent 40 Days to Pray series we’ve explored Welcoming Prayer, Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, Breath Prayer, and praying with Prayer Beads. It’s been quite the journey so far, with each prayer practice progressively guiding us along the path in our Lenten pilgrimage. With Lent soon drawing to a close, this week we’ll be praying the Ignatian practice Examen. Let’s review (seriously—that’s the practice!):
ABOUT THE EXAMEN
The Examen is a practice and prayer of discernment developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. A sixteenth century priest and spiritual director, St. Ignatius founded the religious order called the Society of Jesus, whose members are known as Jesuits. (The most well-known Jesuit today? Pope Francis.) One of the greatest legacies of St. Ignatius is his Spiritual Exercises, a treatise published in 1548 and a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices to help seekers deepen their spiritual journey and relationship with the Divine.
One of the greatest gifts the Spiritual Exercises offer is their emphasis on interior reflection and what St. Ignatius called the “discernment of spirits” or the “motions of the soul.” While St. Ignatius was referring to the impulses of the heart toward good or evil, today we recognize them more as “spirits” because of the spiritual nature of the struggle. This struggle plays out in our everyday thoughts, feelings, imaginings, emotions, desires, and resistances, each tending to influence our level of intimacy with God.
To discern between those that are “evil” and those that are “good,” St. Ignatius invites practitioners to consider areas of consolation, which bring us close to God and our true selves, and desolation, which take us further away. Thoughts and emotions that offer consolation energize and inspire us, providing a sense of rootedness and clarity that deepens our connection with the world around us and allows us to look outside beyond ourselves, revealing where God is at work. On the contrary, thoughts and emotions that are desolate in nature drain us of energy and cloud our internal compass, turning us in on ourselves and disconnecting us with our community and the ways God is at work around us as we spiral deeper into cycles of negativity and despair.
While the discernment of spirits and the naming of areas of consolation and desolation runs throughout the Spiritual Exercises, the Examen offers a structured way to pray through these areas and invite God to breathe insight into your thoughts, emotions, and actions, offering guidance each day. As you begin to name your experiences, bringing them out of the shadows of the past and into the light, the Examen will help to return you to your intention, reminding you what it is you seek and utilizing wisdom from past experiences to light the path ahead.
HOW TO PRACTICE THE EXAMEN
- Choose a time. Because the Examen focuses on reviewing the past, it is typically practiced at the end of the day. However, it could also be practiced first thing in the morning as you review the previous day and prepare for the day ahead, or even on a larger scale, such as at the end of a retreat, liturgical season, or calendar year.
- Become aware of God’s presence. Set the scene by lighting a candle or reading a prayer or poem and then settle in with silence and stillness as you sink into the presence of the Divine.
- Review your day. Beginning at the start of your day, review the events that have passed, with gratitude for the gift of life.
Pay attention to the thoughts and emotions that arise. As you review the events of the day, pay attention to the memories that come to the surface. When did you feel consolation? When did you feel desolation?
- Seek insight. Lean into an area of desolation that feels especially significant, bringing it into the light through conversation with the Divine and asking for wisdom and guidance.
- Look ahead. With gratitude for the insight you have received, look prayerfully ahead with clarity and hope for tomorrow.
Reimagining the Examen app
The Discernment of Spirits from ignatianspirituality.com
Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn
A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer: Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen by Jim Manney