Editor’s note: We’ve been having fun celebrating the 10th anniversary of IgnatianSpirituality.com. The fun will continue throughout July with our 10th-annual 31 Days with St. Ignatius celebration. Bookmark the calendar here. And we’re still “Counting the Gifts of Ignatian Spirituality” by bringing you special content on our website and special offers from our sponsor, Loyola Press. Learn more here.
I learned about the Examen about 15 years ago while I was making a short retreat at a Jesuit retreat center in Pennsylvania. The Jesuit guiding me said it was a simple method of prayerfully reviewing the events of the day just past in order to find where God has been present. It takes about 15 minutes. “You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes,” he said.
That’s an understatement; the Examen changed a lot of things for me. Until that retreat, prayer had an otherworldly, artificial quality. The Examen was just the opposite: a prayer that focused on God’s presence in the real world. It revealed a God who was near to me and active in my life. It helped me find God in my life as I lived it, not in some heavenly realm beyond space and time. It told me to approach prayer with gratitude, not guilt. The Examen gradually taught me to pray as I am, not as I wished I was or thought I could be someday if I worked hard enough.
Over the years I have promoted the Examen whenever I could. I wrote a little book about it titled A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer that has generated more positive commentary than everything else I’ve written put together. I’ve given talks about it. I’ve seen it benefit people of all ages—from my retired friends to the students at my parish, which serves the University of Michigan. Ignatius Loyola wanted us to see God in all things. The Examen helps us do precisely that.
There’s a paradox in the Examen. As prayer goes, it seems to be pretty self-centered. A habit of reflecting on our personal experience of everyday life seems to run the risk of turning prayer into a one-person drama starring ourselves. But the actual experience of praying the Examen seems to have the opposite effect. Our attention shifts from self to the people in our life. The Examen makes us aware of the thick web of relationships we’re part of, the rich significance of the work we do, and the beauty and mystery of our world. The Examen is suffused with gratitude to God.
The Examen has taught me to ask one question about whatever happens in my day: Where is God in this situation? Whatever happens—trouble or joy, failure or success, in humdrum routine or peak experience—God is always there. The Examen reminds me of this. That’s why it’s my favorite prayer.
We begin 31 Days with St. Ignatius with St. Ignatius Loyola’s 10 Guidelines for Negotiating Life’s Journey by Brendan McManus, SJ.
Use the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media, and share the ways you’ve been touched by St. Ignatius and the spiritual outlook that bears his name.