The prayer of Examen is about reflecting on the past day in order to bring light and love to the gift of our daily experience, and look for wisdom to carry from the day into the morrow.
You can pray the examen at the start of the day or in the evening. If you are praying in the morning, you look back at the past day and pray for light and wisdom in the new day that has arrived. In the evening, you look back at the day that has ended, and look for love, light and wisdom to carry into the next day. St. Ignatius of Loyola required his community to pray the examen twice a day.
The prayer is about freedom.
“Ignatius suggested several ways to examine the day. If you make this prayer at night, look back over the day to examine what you did or did not do. You could remember by periods, or hour by hour, or one activity at a time. If you make the Examen in the early morning, look back over yesterday and forward into today. Another way to do the Examen is to focus on one act or attitude, one virtue or vice.
The Examen is about choosing freedom. We ask about the characteristic habits that mark or maybe hamper our spiritual freedom. Actions do not harm us spiritually because the commandments forbid them; the commandments forbid them because they harm us. God’s commands are to protect our freedom and even expand it.
The self-examination in this prayer means reclaiming our own freedom. It begins with naming the strengths and gifts that God gives us. Our gifts tell us what God hopes in us. Our lasting freedom lies in living the gifts—each and all of the gifts—that God gives us.”
Some more tips from IgnatianSpirituality.org:
The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.
The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.
This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced.
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
For more on the Jesuits, or the Society of Friends, and their commitment to be “contemplatives in action, we invite you to check out the work of Fr. James Martin, SJ. Friends with Stephen Colbert (you may have seen him on the TV!) we encourage you to check out his conversation with Krista Tippet, On Being called “Finding God In All Things.”