Being Still Before God
THE PRAYER OF EXAMEN:
TIME TO STOP AND TO REFECT IN GOD’S PRESENCE
The prayer of examen is a spiritual exercise which comes from the Ignatian Christian tradition. The beauty of this spiritual exercise is its simplicity combined with its profundity.
This method of praying is an invitation to look back, often over a particular period such as the past 24 hours and to remember with God. We start by pausing to recollect that we are in God’s presence, we go on to concentrate on the experiences and situations which have been ours during the period we are reviewing.
This review is not about producing more lists of things to do, about SWOT analyses, rather it is a simple and quiet reflection, inviting the Holy Spirit to draw our attention to what he will. We may be surprised at what emerges as we sit with God.
St Ignatius of Loyola is thought to have begun the practice and he encouraged other Christians to follow it as a means of developing a deeper level of spiritual openness and sensitivity and for helping us to learn more about recognising and receiving the help of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
The prayer takes us through 4 stages: presence, gratitude, review and response.
It helps to find a comfortable and relatively quiet place, though sometimes this can be hard to find and so even the quiet of our own minds on a crowded tube train will do.
Begin by recognising that you are in the presence of God himself. Recollect that he loves you and wants to be with you. You may want to focus on a simple phrase such as these:
‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10)
‘The Lord is near to all who call on him’ (Psalm 145:18)
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to be attentive and open to God’s presence and to look at your actions, attitudes and motives with honesty, bravery, patience and kindness.
‘If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You’, wrote Meister Eckhart, ‘that would suffice’
Thinking back over the past 24 hours;
What causes you to be thankful?
Which small things, which big things have brought you life?
What was it about these things which made them life giving?
What do these life-giving situations say to you of God’s grace and goodness?
Allow these experiences and encounters to lead you to say ‘Thank you’.
Use simple words and phrases to express your gratitude to God.
Again recalling the events of your day, explore the content of your actions and thoughts and words. Try to listen to how your heart and soul was during the day.
What were your hopes and concerns?
Which reactions during the day hindered you?
What was there during the day which didn’t add life but which diminished your sense of ‘life to the full’?
What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
When were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life? When were you resisting?
When was your heart divided (wavering perhaps between helping and disregarding, between compassion and indifference, between encouraging and scorn, between criticism and forgiving, between listening and dismissing, between neglecting and thanking)?
This is not a time of self-condemnation, rather it is a gentle look, with the Lord who loves you, at how you have responded to God’s gift of this day.
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural not to leave it there but to want to respond in some way.
Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and encounters with others that you’ve remembered.
Perhaps during this time, as you speak with the Lord, you may find that you are led to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, and express gratitude and so on. You may also find that you need to resolve to make changes and to move forward differently.
Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
Which patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
Perhaps pray with the Psalmist:
‘Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul…teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:8b and 10)
“Over packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learnt from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. ‘Where did the time go?’, we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God’s activity in our lives.” (
We can use the prayer of examen as individuals. Many use it daily as a way of reviewing each 24 hours. It can also be used to review longer periods or specific periods. For example at the end of a particular piece of work or task, at the end of a holiday or as a season of the year draws to a close.
We can also use the prayer with others: perhaps with a home group as you finish a particular series of studies, perhaps as a family at the end of a day or at the end of something you have shared, perhaps as a group working on a shared task and ministry here at Church or in your work place.
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