The prayer of examen is a way of prayer that helps you reflect on your life. As you pray this method at regular intervals in your life, you begin to discover what areas you are either falling toward or away from God. The more often you practice this prayer method, the better you become at discerning the inner movements of the spirits. You can pray this method of prayer either every day, or some other set period so that you can recall and reflect on past events of your life and you will need to continue doing this in order to gain maximum benefit.
The Prayer of Examen was developed hundreds of years ago by St. Ignatius who urged people to become more aware of their feelings and desires. How we act on those feelings can either lead us towards God or away from God. Those feelings or desires that move us toward God are called “consolations” whereas those feels or desires that move us away from God are called “desolations.” As you reflect upon your day, you ask yourself what those times are, or events that may have moved me towards God versus away from God. A good place to start would be your interactions with people, since much of what we do in life is relational. You can also look at a feeling that may have surfaced during the day, and ask yourself what the outcome of it was: did it lead me towards God or did it lead me away from God. See below the sub-topic for Consolation and Desolation where I include some more examples of the types of areas that have drawn you away or towards God. Ignatius believed God would speak through these feelings and desires, but first we must become aware of what we are experiencing and seek to understand what is happening.
The prayer of examen is very simple. As you begin this prayer, it is important to take some time to be quiet and focused. Find a place where you will not be disturbed; sit comfortably and become relaxed. There are four steps to the prayer of examen.
- Sit and be with God. You start: “God, please bring to my awareness of the events you wish me to reflect on.” Then ponder what events or interactions you had with people or a strong feeling that surfaced that may have drawn you away or towards God.
- Gratitude. Once you have identified either one or a few areas you felt drawn to or away from God, pray: “God, I am thankful and grateful for ..”
- Confess. If you uncovered sin that has taking you away from God, ask for forgiveness. Pray: “God, I confess ..”
- Make a resolution. End your prayer of Examen by asking God for help. Pray: “God, I resolve to … need help with.”
Consolation and Desolation
A consolation is can be a pleasant or painful experience, but in the end it moves you toward the love of God. Examples of pleasant experiences can be any of the fruits of the spirts that is listed in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness or faithfulness. Examples of painful experiences could be sadness or remorse. To determine if what you are feeling is moving you away or towards God, you ask yourself: what is the outcome or result? For example, if the event in that caused your remorse in the end point you back to God in some way – perhaps a Biblical reading or praise – you had a consolation experience.
A desolation is something that moves you away from God, and can also be a pleasant or painful feeling. Examples of pleasant feelings that lead you away from God are those that in the moment where “it feels right” but in the end it will have an effect of leading you away from God. An example of this may be loosing your temper and lashing out at somebody or something. In the moment, it feels right to unleash your anger but you have made a decision in such a way that has caused you to sin. An example of a painful experience is of course sin.
|– gift that is from God (Galatians 5:22)|
– move toward love of God and other people
– can be a pleasant experience
– can be a painful experience
(eg – sad, remorse but pointing us back to God)
|– not a gift from God|
– move away from love of God and other people
– can also be a pleasant but counterfeit
– can be a negative feeling
(eg – prideful love)
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”– Galatians 5:22
In the end, you must look at what is happening that has caused you the pleasant and painful experience, what happened during and where it led you in the end to discern whether it was something that lead you towards or away from God.
The goal is to ask for God for help to increase the number of consolations through your day. Anything that leads you away from God needs to be rejected.