Let us examine and see what we have done and then return to the Lord.
Someone said that “the unexamined life isn’t worth living.” For we just move through our days not noticing them, not taking the time to reflect and be thankful. God is with us at all times, speaking to us even, yet we may live our lives not paying attention to Him or His voice, which often is a gentle whisper. Thus the need to pay focused attention.
Many of us tend to live our days at the surface. But there is so much meaning to be mined at the depths of day-to-day life. The examen helps us do this very rewarding excavation. To just look back over your day with specific gratitude is enough to change your life. It’s been shown that writing down three things you are thankful for every day for 21 days actually rewires your brain toward greater happiness.
As you can see from the info graphic above, the Ignatian way of the examen has five steps. Many times I don’t make it past step two before falling asleep in heavenly peace. That’s ok. Remember the point of it all from yesterday: to be united to God. It is not about the practice itself. That’s why it is so important to experiment and actually do these things for a period of time–to see how it best draws you personally to the personal God. For instance, you don’t have to practice this only at bedtime. A short examen in the afternoon I have found to be a great break in my day for the purpose re-centering.
So the first step is simply asking God for insight and strength to make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone. This is real. Believe that God will actually help you to do this. He wants to and will give you greater insight than your normal capacity. I believe God wants to bless you in this way. Perhaps after this request (or even before) you may just sit in His presence until you have some sort of sense of God being with you. Do not rush. Take three to five minutes to simply be still. Trust that God is with you. Immanuel.
Gratitude. This is such a rich and jugular practice in life. Note the gifts God’s love has given you this day, and thank God for them. Start from the beginning of your day noting the specific gifts bestowed upon you that you are not responsible for. This reminds us that God is the first reality, not us. God is, therefore, we are. Ignatius, who is given credit for this version of the prayer in the 16th century, only knew God as giving–One who bestows gifts of grace upon us freely and constantly, revealing through these gifts the infinite love with which we are loved.
It is very good to physically write these gifts down as it will better synthesize into our being. Over time, our attunement and awareness of God’s plentiful gifts will grow. We will notice them more and more in real time, and thus start to live at that higher consciousness I believe we were meant for. We will be in the moment, and full of gratitude within it.
“For Ignatius, recognizing God’s loving gifts and God’s loving presence through them–summarized in the word ‘gratitude’–lies at the very heart of our relationship with God.”
That last quote taken from The Examen Prayer by Timothy Gallagher, a beautiful book on this practice. In it, he has gratitude as step one and petition as step two FYI. Whatever works best for you.
In his book, it looks like this: