Stop the anxiety spiral. Interrupt your internal rumination on the to-do items yet to be done. Plug into this moment. Ground yourself in the presence of love right now. Ignatian Examen is a form of contemplative prayer to accomplish all of that.
What is Contemplative Prayer?
Contemplative prayer is a form of prayer that declutters the mind by drawing a focus towards one specific topic or area. When we engage in contemplative prayer, we draw on a prescribed practice designed to heighten our awareness of God’s presence with us. In doing so, practitioners encounter peace by setting aside momentary thoughts and worries and opening ourselves to the possibility of hearing from God in the current moment.
Contemplative prayer sometimes starts with a word, a symbol, or our breath. It can also start with a simple question or two. Ignatian Examen is one contemplative practice that utilizes questions to draw our focus onto the moment and God’s movement in our daily lives.
What is Ignatian Examen?
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was on his way to military fame when his leg was shattered by a cannonball. While he recovered, he read about Jesus and the saints of the Church. What he read changed him, and he dedicated his life to religious service. He spent a great amount of time in study and trying Christian mystical practices. He founded the Jesuit order of monks and compiled many of his spiritual practices into The Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatius recommended the Jesuits practice a daily reflection that came to be known as Examen (actually, he recommended they practice it twice a day). The Examen, often called Ignatian Examen, is a technique of prayerful reflection covering the events of the day. It helps practitioners discern God’s presence in the events of the day.
In its simplest form, the Examen invites us through five movements:
1. Give thanks to God for what you’ve experienced this day.
2. Ask grace to recognize sins and move on from them.
3. Review the day.
4. Ask pardon for the day’s faults
5. Resolve: what are you doing to do next?
An Examen for today
The traditional model is certainly meaningful. Those who are not immersed in Christian tradition may benefit, however, from some different terminology and points of reflection.
Are you aware of God in this moment?
What are you grateful for right now?
When did you experience love today?
Was there an opportunity in which you missed sharing love with others?
What might you learn from that? (Tell God about it.)
Other forms of Examen
Some creative people have adapted the Examen practice for many different situations. Here are a few of our favorites:
You may be inspired to create your personal Examen. If it draws your attention to what God is doing and what God is calling you towards, then Ignatius would likely approve.
Written by Rev. Ryan Dunn, Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church and United Methodist Communications. He is a father, spouse, and spiritual pilgrim.