In this session we look at the idea and practice of the prayer of examen. Amy Boucher Pye interviews author Sheridan Voysey about his experiences of this way of praying.
Sheridan Voysey is an author, speaker and broadcaster with a keen interest in making life deeply worthwhile. He is the author of eight books, including Reflect with Sheridan, The Making of Us: Who We Can Become When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned, Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings, and the award-winning Unseen Footprints. He’s a presenter of Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show and his writing has been featured in many publications. He writes regularly for Our Daily Bread, a devotional read by 90 million people daily.
The prayer of examen can help us stay tender to God’s Spirit. We search our hearts and minds before God using five short steps:
That is, we turn to God with a grateful heart; we ask him to partner with us in this prayer; we review the specific time frame we’ve chosen for how we’ve moved towards or away from God; we repent of any sin; we seek God’s renewal through the Holy Spirit.
Examen can be a helpful tool to allow emotions, thoughts and feelings rise to the surface out of the shallows. It helps us to name and feel these emotions and then, as necessary, to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit so that we can produce his fruit. So, for example, this way of praying could help us to replace annoyance and frustration with joy and peace. We therefore keep our hearts tender as we notice negative emotions and replace them with the lightness of God’s grace. We may find this especially true when we repent. After repenting we can embrace resting with God in his presence, drawing closer to him and delighting in his wonder and ways.
One challenge with the prayer of examen is that we could become legalistic in how we engage with it. That is, we feel we must do it every day, twice a day, or we have failed. But this is not how Ignatius of Loyola envisioned the process – he saw it as a dynamic way of partnering with the Spirit as we discern where we’re moving towards or away from God.
As we read in chapter seven of 7 Ways to Pray:
When you’re praying this way, remember that God will collaborate with you in it – as you dialogue with him about the events of the day, the Spirit will bring to mind memories and insights. We grow in wisdom and discernment as we understand how we respond to God. As we see how we move towards or away from him, we come to understand ourselves more as God sees us. And we can then embrace the freedom to live and love God and our neighbour.
Remember, too, that Ignatius designed the examen to open people up even more to God’s love and release them into his service. This prayer is not a moralistic code set to constrain us but rather an exercise to encourage freedom and individuality as we seek to serve Christ. Because as Christians we need regular renewal, Ignatian spirituality calls for a daily practice of this prayer so we can cultivate a habit that promotes transformation. When we succeed – that is, when our desire for God so fuels us to embrace this practice regularly – we see our hearts, minds and actions changed to be more like Jesus.
In this video, Sheridan takes us through a practical exercise of how we can use the prayer of examen.
One option for this space is to play the video with Sheridan leading you through the practice of examen, spending some time individually to work through it before reconvening as a group. Or you could engage with the group prayer practice starting on page 142.
Either way, at the end of the practice, share how the experience was for you – how did God meet you? How did you respond? What surprised you? Receive the offerings in an attitude of welcome.
This week, using a prayer journal, start the journey of examen, perhaps twice a day, to see what God brings to light in you, and how you respond.