The Examination of Consciousness

T

he Examination of Consciousness (or Examen) is intended as a short daily period of prayerful reflection. Methodical but more than just a method, it is a tool that helps develop an attitude. It offers a way to seek and find God’s will in our lives and to gain the freedom to let God’s will be done in us and through us for the world. Though there are many variations of this 500 year old prayer, it follows five steps:

1. Pray for Light and Guidance

I recall that I am in the presence of God. Because I realize that God’s perspective is different from mine, I ask God to help me see my day with honesty and patience, because I want to look at it with God’s eyes, not merely my own.

2. Give Thanks

St. Ignatius perceived that God is a generous giver of gifts of all kinds. I therefore recognize that the day I have just lived, with all its ups and downs, is truly a gift from God. There is always goodness that I can find, and so I am grateful.

3. Review the Day

God can be found when we look at life as we actually live it. So where is God in my day? How do I respond to God?

I will now examine how I am living this day. I allow the day’s positive or negative thoughts, feelings, experiences, events, and actions to surface in my memory. With a prayerful attitude ask God to show me what they mean. If I am only drawn to one, so be it. As I recall the events of my day, I will explore the context of my actions. What was I involved with? What were my hopes and hesitations? What moved me to act the way I did? Can I see myself with compassion and my need for God? Where was God taking care of me?

4. Face Your Shortcomings

This part of the Examen is not for excessive introspection and scrupulosity, but rather to consider that God invites us to reflect on what hinders us from becoming sensitive to his presence in our lives. It helps answer the question, “Is my experience a sin, my sin, or a sin in me?” As one reviews the day, it is not just the immoral thoughts or acts that one seeks. Sinful actions aren’t necessarily the real core of what’s wrong with us. Lies, stealing, pornography, etc. arise from deeper disorders caused by betrayal, trauma, unconscious striving for approval parental approval, etc. For these we ask God for awareness and pardon as well as healing. Freed from our attachments that subconsciously enslave us, we become better able to respond to God’s love and action in our lives.

I give thanks for the grace to see what shackles me, and praise God for the times I responded to God’s light.

5. Look Toward the Day to Come

I decide to take action on something based on my experience with God. The ultimate goal is to grow closer to Christ. I ask for the grace to accomplish what I set out to do, trusting that the outcome is also in God’s hands.

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Footnotes

  1. There are many ways of describing the method of the Examen. This is taken from “A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen” by Jim Manney (Loyola Press:Chicago).