A Fruitful Devotional Practice: “Examen”
“Examen” (ex ‘ah men) is an ancient practice of examination of oneself in the light of Christ. The idea is to attentively draw close to Christ, the Light of Life, who will in a singular moment illumine his great love for us and illumine the darknesses of our hearts which have failed to notice his love and his calling.
The practice is a formative and comforting practice and fits well in the liturgical prayer rhythm of compline or late-evening prayer, which is where forms of such have been practiced for many, many years.
The prayer of examen can flow smoothly in this rhythm:
- Silence. Preparation of the Soul. Rest in Christ before you begin.
- Invitation for the Spirit. Ask the Spirit of God to dwell with you and to awaken you to the past day’s moments of “consolation” and “desolation” (see below).
- Consolation. Pray though the moments in which you felt aware of participating in or noticing God’s kingdom reign through Jesus. A helpful metric for noticing God’s reign within is praying through the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control. These are exemplary elements of Christ, an extension of Christ’s life displayed in the Gospels.
- Desolation. Pray through the moments when you can look back and see either when you weren’t aware of God’s reign or ignored his presence or clashed with his kingdom that’s unfolding. A helpful metric for noticing desolations are the biblically based “seven desolations”: pride, envy, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, sloth. (I’ve made an acronym for this: PEGLAGS – I think of it as, “peg lags”.) Thinking through these can help trigger our ignorances and disobediences and help us lay ourselves, as the Spirit guides us, before the grace of God for renovation of the heart.
- Request for Forgiveness. Desolation will lead to a request for forgiveness and reminder of God’s love for you through Christ.
- Invitation to walk in new life. This is a dual step of Repentance and Belief. Ask for God’s guidance for the next day. You don’t need a plan of action here or three things to do tomorrow. Instead, rest in grace and realize that God will provide your tomorrow with what you’ll need; simply ask for God’s Spirit to awaken you to pay attention.
- Silence. Ruminate and rest in the grace of Christ. New life is already with you as a baptized child of God; we are all awakening to this new life within us and around us. The invitation here is to rest and relax: the world is in God’s hands, the earth and everything in it is his.
Additional Questions for Examen:
- For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful?
- When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the least love today?
- What was the most life-giving part of my day? What was the most life-thwarting part of my day?
- When today did I have the deepest sense of connection with God, myself, and others?
- When today did I have the least sense of connection?
- Where was I aware of living out of the fruit of the Spirit? Where was there an absence of the fruit of the Spirit?
- Where did I experience “desolation”? Where did I experience “consolation?”