If we want to maintain our health, it is important to include regular wellness examinations. These exams are more proactive in nature and a physician can help us make healthy choices as well as mitigate any risk factors.
What about our spiritual health? Is there a wellness exam we can participate in where we are more proactive in growing spiritually and allowing the Great Physician to guide us toward a place of spiritual wellness and wholeness?
I believe one such practice is the Prayer of Examen. This was first developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. It is a beautiful way to bring our lives to the Great Physician and Healer and to get a checkup for our souls.
What's Included in the EXAMEN?
When we go for a wellness exam, there are various questions, assessments, and review done in order for the physician to guide our journey and to diagnose any issues which need attention. The Examen is similar, there are steps involved, some of which help us in our journey in spiritual wellness and others that God can use to point out some issues that need attention that are blocking our wellness.
There are various renderings of the Examen but for this post I am going to describe the steps as laid out by Timothy Gallagher in his book, The Examen Prayer. Gallagher outlines five steps but also identifies important transition times of before and after the examen.
- Transition to Examen
- Transition out of Examen
Below is a deeper discussion of each of the steps.
Steps to the Examen
Transition: Exam Preparation – I liken this to entering the waiting room of a Dr’s office. We settle in, maybe fillout some paperwork. But this is a different kind of waiting room. We are in the presence of God transitioning to an appointment of prayer with Him. In this transition, Gallagher encourages us to “become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.” This is such a crucial point. The EXAMEN is done in the presence of a loving Father as a dearly beloved child. Without this transitory thought, we may rush into the examination as if we are seeing if we are measuring up and worry about what if we fail. The EXAMEN is a way to bring all of ourselves to the safety and security of our loving Father. We can fully trust our spiritual well-being with Him!
Step 1: Gratitude – As we look back on the day, or the previous day if you are praying in the morning, what you thankful for? Take time to notice what happened in the day; the gifts that God has given. Watchmen Nee, in his book Sit, Walk, Stand describes God’s character and nature to give in this way:
Step 1 calls us to rest in the goodness of God and to not forget all of his benefits (Psalm 103). What gifts did you receive from God in this day?
Step 2: Petition – This petition is not what we usually think about petition in prayer when we are asking God to answer prayers for ourselves and others. This is a petition to God that He allow us to see what He wants us to see and to have the strength and wisdom to understand. The petition can start simply as a statement like: “loving Father, would you show me what you want me to know about this day?” And then we take some time and just listen, waiting for God to help us recall whatever He brings to our mind. Gallagher captures this second step beautifully:
Wow, this is powerful! When I first started learning about the EXAMEN, I was coming at it more like a harsh examination where I would see all of my sins laid bear and leaving feeling so unworthy. But God is not like that. We may feel conviction, but God is ultimately looking to break down walls that keep us from experiencing life with Him as He intended. I can go for that kind of examination!
Step 3: Review – In this step, you review the day with God. In step 1 we were looking for God’s gifts to us, in this step we bring our lives before God and ask for Him to speak to us about our day. We want to be transparent with our Father and be open to how He is leading us and where we may feel we are struggling. One way to think of this review is to look for moments of consolation and desolation. Ruth Haley Barton, in Sacred Rhythms, describes it this way:
In our consolations, we want to see these and celebrate the goodness of God and how we experienced His presence. In our desolations, we want to see what we are struggling with or what is leading to our “dis-ease”. As mentioned earlier, Jesus walks us through this place so that we can experience freedom.
Rather than try to cram the last two steps plus the additional transition all in one post, this seems to be a good place to stop. I pray that you are seeing the beauty of the Examen as a wonderful way to experience God and to invite His presence into the very core of your being. Over the next week, I invite you to look for times to try out the Examen. I love doing this at night while I am walking my dog. I have found it to be a very calming and reassuring way to end my day. Bask in the transition of God’s love, relish the gifts He has given you, pray for His guidance and wisdom, and then bring your day in His presence and allow Him to shine the light of His grace and truth to your life in this day.
The next post, we will finish up the remaining steps of Forgiveness, Renewal and Closing Transition.