A few weeks ago I was sitting with a friend talking about how things have been going over the last few months. We both recently made major transitions where we moved across the country and began life as grad students, and we were considering where God has been present since we had made our moves. As we sat outside on a cold winter afternoon, we soon found ourselves struggling to come up with the language and framework to describe our experiences.
This conversation stayed with me as I wondered why it was so difficult to name the spiritual movements and emotions we had encountered. Eventually, I went back to my spiritual roots and remembered a resource that I hadn’t been using very frequently: the Ignatian Examen.
This practice, instituted by St. Igantius, is often used at the end of the day to review and detect God’s presence in the experiences of the last 24 hours. However, this practice can also be used to consider larger amounts of time – weeks, months, and even years. This is especially useful when discerning a major life change where noticing affective movement (or internal spiritual and emotional activity) can be extremely valuable in working to understand where God might be leading you over a period of time.
Here is a method that closely follows Ignatius’ initial format, but considers longer periods of time.
The Extended Examen:
- Invite in the awareness of the presence of God.
- In gratitude, review the period of time that you wish to consider.
- It might be helpful to focus on a particular recurring activity or situation.
- Another way to do this would be to consider where a particular affective movement was present: When did I feel desolation? When did I feel consolation? Are there any patterns or correlations that I notice?
- Consider your emotional movement over time throughout these occasions.
- In the times you considered, investigate what God may be trying to say to you through your emotions.
- Where might God be leading you through these emotions?
- Pray with these revelations.
- Ask God for assistance in understanding these movements.
- Ask God to illuminate God’s self and presence in these occurrences.
- What spiritual insights do you find in these revelations?
- Look forward to tomorrow.
- Is God calling you to change anything in light of these instances?
- How might God be calling you to live more fully through these experiences?
- How is God calling you to proceed forward?
- Ask God to guide you in the coming days.
Through the Examen, we are able to better discern God’s movement in us through the very recent (considering just the previous day) or in the long term (considering longer periods of time). Ultimately, the goal is to foster a close and intimate relationship with God through God’s presence in ourselves and the world around us.
So, in remembering the time I spent with my friend looking back on our first few months living in Boston, I can use this Examen to consider where God has been present in all of the complicated emotions that come from transition. The structured format of this kind of prayer provides the framework that is useful when it is difficult to find the language for processing major events or long periods of time.
Give it a try next time you are trying to understand where God has been present, especially if you haven’t had the chance to pray with the Examen daily!