I’d like to report that my first week practicing the Prayer of Examen was flawless in execution, spiritually enlightening and emotionally fulfilling. I’d like to, but I can’t.
Being the impatient overachiever that I am, I imagined myself immediately getting into the groove of this daily spiritual inventory. I figured it was a matter of putting myself the right place at the right time, following the proscribed progression of prayer, and voila! A deep spiritual experience. A refining fire. A revelation of seeing myself as God sees me. The reality? Sadly, none of those things. At least not yet.
The idea of the Examen is to invite God to review your day with you to see where you have experienced God’s presence, absence, joy or sorrow. Ideally, this is done at day’s end, which has proved to be a challenge. It’s gone something like this: at the end of the day, I try to quiet my mind. I close my eyes to avoid distractions. I breathe deeply and slowly, conscious of each inhale and exhale.
I invite God to help me see the day through His eyes. Breathe in, breathe out.
I give thanks for the day’s blessings. Breathe in, breathe out.
I begin to review the day. Breathe in, breathe out.
And as the movie of the day plays in my mind . . . I fall asleep.
Although I love the idea of falling asleep in the company of the Holy Spirit, I feel I am failing at my assignment. So, although it’s not ideal, I might try shifting my review of the day to the next morning. I also need to be more patient and humble, acknowledging that, like all prayer, I must abandon myself to the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit. Although there is a structure to the Examen, it is not a mechanical exercise. As Richard Foster says in his classic Celebration of Discipline, “By themselves the spiritual disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us the place where something can be done.”
In the meantime, I came across this beautiful description of what I hope my Prayer of Examen will be. As I begin again, these will be my words of inspiration:
“My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman: Give me and I shall give you.
My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: This is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector; these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow.
My God and I are horsemen galloping in the burning sun or under drizzling rain. Pale, starving, but unsubdued, we ride and converse.
“Leader!” I cry. He turns his face towards me and I shudder to confront his anguish.
Our love for each other is rough and ready, we sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.“
from The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises
by Nikos Kazantzakis