The first time I did the prayer of Examen I was in a beautiful chapel at a Benedictine Abbey in Schyler, Nebraska. A friend led a group of us retreants in the prayer in such a simple, beautifully grounded way that I fell in love with it. The metaphor he used as he led us through the prayer was of a person digging into their bag for their keys. Our hand is sensitized to know in a bodily way what we’re looking for. There’s the keys and then there’s everything else. We feel, notice, let go. Feel, notice, let go. This rhythm, sometimes feels interminable, but then (joy unspeakable) we feel our keys. This is the basic rhythm of the Examen prayer. We are searching through our day to discover the consolation and the desolation of our days. The consolation is the moment we feel closest to God’s presence. The desolation, the moment we feel most cut off from God. The inherent teaching in the Examen is that everything is sacred and there is the possibility of connecting with God in each moment of our day.
There’s a structure to the prayer which I’ll lead you through. Jen Wilhoite is a spiritual director and contemplative storyteller that creates tools for prayer practice. One of the tools she makes available is her Examen cards. They go through the Examen with you so you can be reminded of the steps as you go. I'll link her etsy site in case you’d like to order some.
Find a comfortable sitting position and I invite you to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths as we begin.
1. Pause and give thanks for something in your day even if it's small.
Gratitude lets us see the light in our lives alongside the Shadows. When we connect to our blessings, we connect to the sacred within us and around us because we are acknowledging those things we cherish and give us a sense of wonder. In this way, the first step is an act of honesty and joy.
2. Review what happened in your day and how you felt about it.
We don't have to recall every detail, but a general recap of our day makes us more aware of our reality and emotions. This is especially helpful if we are on autopilot we're feeling disconnected reviewing our day also helps us consider that the holy speaks to us through our Humanity, our thoughts, emotions, routines and bodily experiences, and that we were invited to listen to all of it.
3. Reflect on the questions of consolation and desolation: when did you feel connected to Divine love and when did you feel disconnected?
Holding the memories and feelings from the day's events, it's now time to observe (without judgment) what sticks out. We do this by asking what brought us allies and made us feel connected to love (consolation) and what broke our hearts and made us feel isolated (desolation close parentheses. This is where we begin to listen to our hearts calling and where God may be inviting us into deeper relationship and healing.
4. Listen to where are you need mending or need to make amends.
This stuff is one of accountability, compassion and Grace. We sit in Union with Divine love and consider where there is hurt and misunderstanding in our day we listen to where we need to make amends to another, where we need to give or receive a second chance and where we need to speak up about our own needs. we commit to taking the appropriate action based on these Revelations when we end our practice.
5. Set an intention and move on with love.
This step is about making peace with the day and moving on with intention. It's like a clean slate. We might need to wrap up Loose Ends, but we're ready to move forward and we aim to do so with loving presence. So based on all that you discovered and acknowledged thus far, where do you want to go now? With What attitude and purpose do you want to take your next steps? How do you want to move on? What do you want to do?
6. Give thanks again.
Gratitude provides such nourishing perspective, hope and humility that ending our practice with it is like lighting a lantern for the path ahead. It also reminds us that we are not alone, but are traveling with the sacred who loves us just as we are.
Going back to the metaphor of searching for keys in your bag, I’d like you to think further back than just your day. I’d like you to go back to your 5 year old, 8 year old maybe even 12 year old self. Last week I asked you to imagine that first moment you felt the presence of God. Today I’d like you go back and retrieve some other moments from your growing up.
First - I’d like you to think about what your images of God were growing up? The old man with the white beard sitting on a cloud throwing lightning bolts? Take some time and write down as many words, phrases, images as you can remember of your image of God as a child?
Next - Think about what you were explicitly taught about God growing up? What were told by parents and caregivers? Siblings? The church?
Finally - What were you implicitly taught about God growing up? What did you absorb from watching the adults in your life? Maybe there are things that mirror what we were explicitly taught, perhaps not, most likely there were both.
Lastly - My challenge for you is to continue with the Examen practice each night. It doesn’t have to be a long practice. And continue to reflect and be open to remembering moments from growing up and the images you had of God and perhaps images you learned about God that you are now even recognizing as God. Where did you feel God most profoundly as a child and teenager?