Editor’s note: Today we begin a series exploring each of the steps of the Examen. We’re using the Examen version from Jim Manney’s book, A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer. We’ll look at a different step each week.
1. Ask God for light.
Whenever I pray the Examen, asking for God’s light is essential. To ask for God’s light reminds me that I need God’s insight and assistance, and I can’t only rely on myself. We all need to grow in understanding beyond our own, sometimes too narrow, perspectives. When I pray, even to ask for God’s light already predisposes me to be open to something beyond myself, someone beyond myself, open to a way of seeing things that may be different than how I see it as I enter a time of prayer.
I have an active imagination, so when I ask for God’s light, I often visualize light. I wonder: How does God’s light shine down on me as I pray? What corners of the heart does God seek to find out? What recesses of my own being that still live in darkness need to be illuminated? When I imagine God’s light, I don’t imagine the harsh light of an interrogation—as in the movies, when someone is trying to extort the truth from the criminal who is unwilling to speak it. Rather, God’s light is more like the gentle light of sunrise, where gradually “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). It’s a light of love that helps me to loosen up and be more receptive to whatever God wants to show me. When we shine light onto something, as in a spotlight on the stage, we give it our full attention. Asking for God’s light is not only asking for God to give us attention, but also to give our attention back to God and to God’s ways.
The late Howard Gray, SJ, once said that the Spiritual Exercises have an overarching emphasis: they are a “focused movement towards discovery” of how much God is present in a person’s life and his or her identity. The Examen, too, is based on this essential idea that God is always present to us—not only when we pray, but always. Just as I often don’t actively think about how the sun is shining down on me as I go through my ordinary day, I can easily forget that God is accompanying me and there in all that takes place. Yet like sunlight, God’s love is always there. So when I slow down, take a breath, and remember to ask for light, it is a chance to remember God and to remember the deepest part of myself in God too. Remembering God’s light, and being receptive to it, allows me to be more open to God’s transforming power and to become more of who God desires for me to be—and perhaps even at moments to pass on this light to others.