A Guide to The Examen Prayer

The prayer of Examen is a space you create to reflect on (to examine) your day in light of God’s presence. This is a practice I’ve been using in recent weeks, as I approach my 25th birthday, and I’ve found it helpful and comforting.

“…to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

— Mary Oliver

This extraordinary time of life has lent itself to more personal reflection, the reorganization of priorities, and renewed awareness to life’s complexity. We must continue to examine our understanding of “normal,” and for many, our privilege, and seek to conform our hearts and minds to Christ.

Practicing the Examen

There are a few different variations of this form of prayer and if you decide to practice the examen, you’ll find your own rhythm that works best for you. I’ve found it helpful for my own practice to associate the steps with something tactile: gardening. Similar to adding motions to a children’s song, the gardening metaphors help me to remember the rhythm.

photo: jade seok

Give Thanks

Begin by planting seeds of gratitude. Offer thanks for whatever comes to mind. The “seeds” are all different sizes, some harder to pick up than others. There is a power in recognizing what you’re grateful for, even if you don’t *feel* very thankful in the moment. The seeds will continue to grow and fill up your garden.

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!” 

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Be Present with God

Don’t be quick to wipe the dirt from your hands. Allow yourself to be fully present with God. One of the best parts of gardening is putting your hands in the soil. Its mildly therapeutic, in my humble opinion, and encourages me to be mindful of the task at hand. In silence or with a few words, invite the Holy Spirit to guide you as you pray.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways…Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?”

—Psalm 139:1–3, 7 NRSV

Reflect on the Day

Notice how the garden has grown. Where have light and water nourished the garden? Where have weeds taken over? Allow the Holy Spirit to direct your attention to God’s presence in your day.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

Any every common bush afire with God,

But only [s]he who sees takes off [their] shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

— Elizabeth Barret Browning

Identify Areas of Growth

Remove any weeds from the garden. Invasive species or common weeds are inevitable and must be tended to with a sharp eye and gentleness. Where is pruning needed? Ask the Lord for forgiveness where you’ve been wrong. How can you initiate or participate in reconciliation?

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

— Ephesians 4:31-32

Look to Tomorrow

Water with care. Reflect on your hopes for the next day and ask God to help you in any anticipated temptations or challenges. The act of watering is an act of hope for new growth and new life.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

— Lamentations 3:22-23

Alternative Method

We all get overwhelmed and sometimes it’s too much to think of the entire prayer, or the entire garden, if you will. If this describes your day, it may be easier to ask yourself just two questions:

  • Where have I spoken or acted in love?
  • Where have I spoken or acted in fear?

As you ask these questions, allow yourself to be present with God, even for a few minutes.

Additional Resources

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