I was recently gifted a book called A Simple Life-Changing Prayer from my friend and superintendent Garth Bolinder. It was a timely gift, as I have been teaching a series on prayer and wanted to not only include a talk on the Examen, but also begin it in earnest myself.
The pic above comes from Jim Manney’s book itself (here is the original site) showing us a Simple Life-Changing Prayer in its distilled form. It really is not much more complicated than this, and for my own purposes I’ve distilled it even further:
- An Attitude of Gratitude
- Examine Desires
- Make Amends
My renewed interest in the above came when I found I would periodically “lose touch” with myself and God despite my progress and spiritual growth of late, I would still have “relapses” of judgment, temper outbursts, selfish streaks, etc. In those moments I would “leak” as it were… and have no idea where the plumbing is broken. Sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks – I would be completely out of touch. And as a minister I am not proud to say this, but it was because of a lack of prayer.
Mind you, I am speaking of prayer as a panacea for spiritual ills, not a puffing-up, hyping-up, pumping-up, self-psyching, check box exercise that I have been a good religious person today, but rather a prayer that is a meditative cogitation before God that examines motives and desires and serves as a regular spiritual SOTU (State of the Union) – this was not happening. That’s what I needed.
And so I’ve re-carved out the regular time in my day when I settle down for an inventory of sorts, an examen, a special prayer that discerned the presence of God throughout my day and also held up my own wants, needs, and desires to the scrutiny of the divine. It’s different from the 11 to midnight prayers I used to do which rattled off a checklist of Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication, which was fine as it was, but I needed something more. And because for the longest time I couldn’t find it it seemed like I had been in a long desert stretch. Discovering the Examen has been like an oasis. It has no obligation to be long, no sense of multiplying words upon words. Wordiness is not helpful here. And yet the time is easily filled with discerning and prayerful cogitation that is not wandering, rambling, droning – meaningless (Matt 6:7 “7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the pagans do”). At the same time it is concise. A good examen can be completed in 5 minutes and so I am not beholden to the clock as in my old performance-ridden days. Thank God I am free from that. My prayers now are both long and short – but anyway concise and effective and that’s because I now have a new purpose – not to multiply words before God – but to be grateful for my day, to discern his movements, and figure out what I must do to align in action.
The writing of C.S. Lewis comes to mind here:
“Only words, words; to be led out in battle against other words… I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer… why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?” – Till We Have Faces
So for the sake of myself and my community, I’ve taken it upon myself after some study to write our own examen (with accompanying mp3) adapting elements from the Ignatian Examen as well as the end-of-day inventory of Alcoholics Anonymous (10th / 11th Step prayers). It reads like this:
Woven Prayer of Examen
God, I am grateful for today. *
As I review my day, what should I take notice of? *
Please shed your light and show me what I really need. *
Where was I resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Do I owe an apology? *
Have I kept something to myself which should be discussed with another person at once? *
Was I kind and loving towards all or was I thinking of myself most of the time? *
Forgive me for my harms and show me what corrective measures I should be taking. *
This I do, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Hope it’s helpful as it is presently helping me.
I now end my day after every and any activity, even if it is late-evening movie-watching, to end with an examen. 11 to midnight is sectioned-off once again. I feel no compulsion to fill the whole hour. Sometimes it happens, other times I am done early. If the examen was effective I am fine with that. I now also begin my day first thing in the morning with a short examen of sorts to get my mind in the right spiritual place so I can establish a conscious contact with God throughout the rest of the day. Get this – I do this even before I check my email on my phone!!! – tremendous lol. It’s also lessened some of the screen-related hypertension I’ve had. So unhealthy.
I am not listing these as a showing of pride but foolishness. Of course our prayer acts are to be kept “secret” as Jesus teaches in Matt 6. But for me it is foolishness because a) it is for your glory and benefit, and, b) to show that sometimes even ministers need to get onto better medicines for our own follies and character defects.