THE EXAMEN EFFECT
Updated: Apr 7, 2022
In our previous blog, Maryanne explained the origin of the Examen, a 16th century Ignatian spiritual practice, and she described how to incorporate it into our modern daily life.
I would like to share with you how doing the Examen has affected my own spiritual growth.
I first learned about the Examen while reading the book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Everyday Life by Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest. At that time, I was looking for a new and different way to deepen my walk with God. I was intrigued by the Examen as a way to connect my whole day with God.
In the Examen, we are invited to go over our entire day, from the morning until the evening, and notice moments of God’s grace as well as times when we fell short of our best selves. Going over my day using the lens of the Examen has had some unexpected effects on my life; it has helped me be present to my day with greater intention. Usually, the things that happened at the beginning of the day would be long forgotten by the time I was going to bed. The Examen helps me go back and specifically recall what I did, saw, heard, thought, or felt from the moment I wake up, which means that I have more opportunities to notice God’s hand in my daily life.
In his latest book, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone, Fr. James Martin says that the Examen allows us to be present to all the small moments in life, which in the end make us aware of God’s grace even during a very difficult day.
Practicing the Examen has certainly improved my ability to pay attention and be present for those moments in my day that I would normally glaze over and forget. When I see something beautiful, or hear a kind word, or do something meaningful, I notice it and remember to thank God for it right there and then. I don’t take these moments for granted like I used to. It has helped me practice gratitude with more intention and focus.
Besides giving thanks, another important part of the Examen is facing our shortcomings by noticing those times when we failed to do what we needed to do, when we lost our tempers, when we ignored a need, etc. This is a different kind of invitation to personal and spiritual growth: How can I do better? Where can I grow? What about the next time I am faced with a similar situation? It is not meant as a guilt trip, rather an opportunity to change our patterns and do better next time. It allows us to look at our actions during the day through a different lens and see things we would normally ignore or avoid about ourselves and our actions. As Fr. James Martin reminds us, if we are attentive, we will be gently invited to change.
If you have never tried the Examen, Fr. James Martin has a podcast that leads you through this practice, appropriately called The Examen with Fr. James Martin, SJ. You can find it on any podcast platform.
Maryanne and I hope you give the Examen a try and let us know how it has affected your spiritual walk!
Have you tried doing the Examen? What worked well for you? What didn’t?
If you have tried the Examen, what effect did it have on your spiritual life?
What is your favorite spiritual practice, and how can you bring elements from the Examen into it?
What invitation do you find in the practice of the Examen?