I’ve never had a very consistent prayer practice, but I challenged myself last year to use a daily journal. As it turns out, it was a significant factor in keeping me grounded during the pandemic by helping me focus on the positives of life amid uncertainty. One year later, though, my once-loved ritual had become a bit stale. Rather than the rejuvenating prayer time it once was, my gratitude journaling had begun to feel like a purely mental exercise. I was ready for a new way to bring reflection to my days.
In pursuit of a deeper connection to God in my life, I committed to try a new prayer practice. I set out to pray the Ignatian Examen every day for a month. The Examen is a reflective prayer process adapted from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.
It is usually prayed in five different steps, each one intended to reveal a form of God’s presence in our daily life. After just one month of (near) daily prayer, I can say that it has done that. I have found the Examen to be a beautiful framework that allowed me to open my heart and my mind to God’s active presence in my life. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Step One: Become aware of the presence of God
The Examen’s first step is to become aware of God’s presence. This simple act of considering myself in the presence of God has been impactful for me. It has shifted my prayer so that I feel like I am praying with God rather than to Him. It has been a reminder that the everyday moments of my life are sacred, and that I can connect to God in the here-and-now.
Step Two: Review your day
The Examen, for me, has been a way to ask God to show me where He is acting in my life today. This has been a major change from my previous prayers — which were mostly saying “Thank you” — during which I would call the shots to rank the day’s best blessings.
It has been powerful to reflect on my life through God’s eyes. When it seemed like God wasn’t there, the Examen process often brought up a new perspective. My God-moments were often something surprising, random, or small: a housemate’s generosity to share some food with me, a cuddle from a friend’s cat, a joyful phone conversation with my mom, the view of my city’s skyline on commute home. Without the Examen, I would have overlooked all these little moments where I came to notice love in my days.
Step Three: Pay attention to emotions; Step Four: Choose a feature of the day, and pray with it
The Examen invites us to pay attention to emotions we feel throughout the day, and pray into them. These two steps have helped me to view challenging feelings as ways that God might be showing me my true desires. On one listless, restless, day, I prayed into that sense of restlessness. This was a change from my default approach to move past difficult emotions as quickly as possible. Instead, I lingered on it.
“What was this restlessness about?” I asked. Beneath that feeling, I eventually discovered a desire for more community and connection with others. It was refreshing to bring God into my frustration, rather than relying on my own ability to get over it.
Step Five: Look ahead to the next day
The Examen’s final step is to look ahead toward the next day with an intention. In the past, I would set my daily intentions based on what I thought I should accomplish. Over the past month, I have adopted a different approach. Each time I pray the Examen, I seek to be shown my intention — which has led me from “doing” to “being.” On days when I would have picked “productivity” as my intention, the Examen brought forth an intention of “love.” When my mind would have said, “Make the most of my day,” I instead was shown, “Show appreciation for people.”
While I’m only a month into this new practice, the daily Examen has already enabled me to connect to God more deeply. It has allowed me to adopt a more trusting, Spirit-led approach to review my days. The prayer is designed to allow us to focus on what God wants to show us, and to follow that prompting — rather than following what we think of ourselves. It’s good practice for building a life led by God’s loving presence.