From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Praying the Examen”

“Praying the Examen”

“For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.”

Dag Hammarskjöld

The Examen is a way of reflecting prayerfully on your day, and may be a practice to consider during Lent. It was originally developed by St Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises. It may be a very short prayer, or a period of longer reflection. It may prayed at any time, but is often prayed last thing at night.

The reflections can take many different forms.

For example, at the end of the day you could look back and find five things that have brought you joy. They may be immense, or they may be as tiny as a smile in the street. My own practice is to find at least three things I am grateful for. Sometimes this shows a difficult day in a different light. And knowing that I will be doing the Examen at night has heightened my awareness of God’s simple giftings during the day, so I can give thanks in the moment.

The Jesuit priest William Barry suggests this practice: cast your mind over the day and notice the moment in the day that provoked the strongest inner response, whether joy, anger, compassion, or sorrow. Where might God be in that moment and what might God be telling you through your feelings? Have a conversation with God about what you notice.

Another practice uses your four fingers and thumb. Note one thing that gave you energy during the day; one that drained your energy; one that brought you life; one that drained life; and one thing that brought you sorrow. Life and energy are not the same. Going for a long walk can bring life but drain energy, while getting really angry can energise but drain life.

The Examen lends itself well to the app format, helping you to pray wherever you are. Both the Reimagining the Examen app and Examen Prayer App are based on Ignatius’ Exercises.

Whichever practice you choose, start with a period of silence, to let go of your immediate concerns and still yourself. It’s usually helpful to write down your reflections, whether or not you ever re-read them. (Although re-reading them can give you a sense of how God is working in your life and renew your gratitude.) Finish by offering your reflections back to God and, if you are praying the Examen at the end of the day, by placing tomorrow in God’s hands. Then sleep well!


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.