We Christians talk about prayer a lot. We extol the virtue of daily prayer in the Christian life. And we may even say we know how to pray. But do we really?
While many of us grew up learning basic prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, and went to church services on Sundays, we were rarely given opportunities to learn other forms and styles of prayer. While memorizing prayers is a good and helpful exercise, and participation in the Sunday Eucharist is essential to the Christian life, there are many others prayer practices you can easily incorporate into your daily life.
Over the next few weeks I will share a series of posts on different styles of prayer and basic steps for practicing them. Future posts will consider:
Reading the Bible – Lectio Divina or Holy Reading
Praying the Eucharist
Making Time Holy – The Daily Office
Pray as You Write
Prayer and Everyday Life
Praying as a Family
Inviting and Teaching Others How to Pray
We will even have a guest post or two on other themes related to prayer.
Prayer Exercise: The Examen
To start our series off, let us take a look at a simple practice to help make prayer a part of your every day life: the Examen. Now I know that sounds like an intimidating word, but don’t let it deter you. The Examen is a simple prayer exercise you can incorporate either before you go to bed or early in the morning of the next day.
The Daily Examen was first introduced by a man by the name of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Once a celebrated saint in the Roman Church, St. Ignatius’ life and teaching has captured the imagination of Christians everywhere. He is even remembered in the Anglican liturgical calendar.
Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Ignatius was a celebrated soldier and man of the world. Yet a severe war injury left him bedridden for a considerable period of time. At first difficult, the time of healing became a period of great discovery and transformation for Ignatius. In the end, his wound gave birth to one of the greatest religious and spiritual movements in recent Christian history.
Ignatius introduced the Daily Examen as a tool for us to prayerfully consider, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence in our day and our response to God’s invitation to love and serve all people.
How to Pray the Examen
As I shared earlier, the practice usually takes place in the evening, sometime before bed time. However, you can start your day off reflecting on your previous day following the steps of the Examen as well.
The Daily Examen typically includes five simple steps and can be completed in 15 minutes. Many, however, find the practice so helpful and enriching that their prayer will extend well beyond the 15 minute mark.
Although there are variations to the Examen, the typical steps are:
Ask God for Light
Review the Day
Face Your Shortcomings
Look Toward the Day to Come
The Steps Described
To start, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and to open our heart and mind to see as God sees.
After a few moments of silent prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we move onto the second step and we give thanks to God for the gifts we received during the day. To help us consider our gifts, we may ask “what have I got to be grateful today?” You can be grateful for anything: for the food you shared, for friendships experienced during the day, and so forth. The things you are grateful for need not be grand, but can also be simple. Once you’ve acknowledged those things you are grateful for, give thanks to God.
Then take a deep breath and review your day. You might use the following questions to guide you:
How was I drawn to God today: a friend, an event, a book, the beauty of nature?
Have I learnt anything about God and his ways: in ordinary occasions, spare moments?
Did I meet him in: fears, joys, work, misunderstandings, weariness, suffering?
Did I bring Christ to my community ? Did they bring Christ to me?
Have I been a sign of God’s presence and love to the people I met today?
Did I go out to: the lonely, the sorrowful, the discouraged, the needy?
Is there some part of my life still untouched by Jesus Christ and where he is calling me to a change of heart?
After you spent some time considering these or other questions, take a deep breath and pray for the Holy Spirit’s continued guidance of your prayer.
In the fourth step, Ignatius invites us to acknowledge our sinfulness and how we didn’t live fully God’s call for us. Acknowledgement of sin isn’t meant to make you feel bad, but rather to help you grow in awareness of the unconscious and conscious ways you have forgotten to fully love God and your neighbour. The fourth step helps us to remember that we are dependent upon God and God’s grace, and so we conclude this fourth step by asking God for forgiveness for the ways we haven’t lived his call to love.
Finally, you conclude the Examen by discerning where you need God in the day to come. Perhaps you have a difficult task or meeting to attend — invite God to guide you. Or maybe you’re facing a challenge at home with a family member or at work with a colleague — ask God to open your heart to love and ask for the gift of wisdom.
To close your time in prayer, you can pray a prayer you might know by heart, such as the Lord’s Prayer or even learn a new one. A favourite of many Christians is the Anima Christi:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O Good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Permit me not to be separated from thee
From the wicked foe defend me
At the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to thee
That with the Saints I may praise thee
Forever and ever. Amen
As noted earlier, there are many variations to the Examen Prayer. In its simple form, however, the Examen is a great way to invite the Holy Spirit, to give thanks, to review your day, to acknowledge your sins, and to ask God for guidance. Don’t worry about getting the form perfect; simply allow yourself to enter into the prayer and invite God to transform your life.
-Rev. Don Beyers
For more information about the Examen, you may find the following sites helpful: