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A Pandemic Examen

Is it just me, or has it been hard to remember what day it is during this pandemic? 

I’ve been home, physically distancing for months - juggling working from my new home office/couch, recording video after video to increase online content to share with churches, and adding new hobbies (cause everyone’s making sourdough and gardening in their free time, right?) Throughout every day comes the relentless news cycle of COVID-19 stats, economic concerns, and the ongoing racism and violence in the US and Canada that is certainly not new, but that has rightfully captured our attention in this time. (I’ll add that I’m in awe of those who have kids, who’ve become teachers/creative activity generators/peacemakers on top of all of this!) It’s no wonder that our days seem to blend together and overwhelm us both mentally and physically.

I’ve been drawn to the prayer of examen for a few reasons.

A spiritual practice that has helped me create some sort of rhythm out of this blur of days is praying the daily examen. This ancient prayer was created by St. Ignatius of Loyola, and has been part of the daily practice of Jesuits for centuries. The purpose of the prayer is to ‘examine’ your day - to reflect on where God has shown up in your thoughts and actions as you’ve gone through your day, and where, perhaps, you may need to repent. I’ve been drawn to the prayer of examen for a few reasons. One, I’m absolutely not a morning person (I’m baffled by those who are) and so a spiritual practice that is performed at the end of the day instead of at the crack of dawn is more my speed. Secondly, I deeply appreciate the intentionality of stopping to review my day rather than just dropping into bed exhausted, and having the opportunity to contemplate, with the Holy Spirit as my guide, where I’ve done well, and where I can do better tomorrow. It makes meaning out of my small, everyday activities, but also gives me a moment to pause and consider where my place of action should be in the wider events of the world. 

The prayer of examen can be done in just a few minutes, or in a longer 15 or 30 minute reflection, but it always has 5 easy-to-remember steps: invitation, thanks, review, repent, and hope for tomorrow. Below I’ll outline an example how each step goes when I move through the prayer, but for those who are interested in a more meditative (and less candid) guided prayer of examen, I highly recommend this superb video created by Fuller Seminary. 

1 - Invitation

Slow down for a minute and become aware of God’s presence. Sometimes it helps to take a few deep breaths while you invite God into the evaluation of your day. (For me, these breaths help me to stop making grocery lists in my head and to concentrate on the prayer). Many daily examens start with ‘asking God for light’ to see your day with God’s eyes rather than your own. This is also an important step for me, because I’m often much harsher on myself that God’s light is on me.

2 - Thanks

Thank God for the good, constructive things that have happened over the course of your day. What are you grateful for? Who did you share a joyful moment with? Did you hear wonderful news? Did you learn something painful, yet helpful? Was a prayer answered? 

Today, I’m thankful for the first rose that’s bloomed in my garden, and a roommate who took out the garbage, and strawberry ice cream at the end of a long, hot day, and gracious co-workers who redirect my enthusiasm to ‘fix things’ towards listening and centering voices that aren’t my own. 

3 - Review 

Think honestly over the events of the day and consider how they look now in hindsight. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you some feedback on your actions or intentions. Did you have successes or challenges today? Do you feel good about what you thought and did? In what moments did you display the love of Christ? Celebrate those! In what moments did you give way to your own not-so-great desires or reactions? Consider why those emotions or actions came about. 

When I first began doing the daily examen, I rushed through this part, because I was afraid of God’s judgement on my shortcomings. Who wants to face their failures, let alone ask God to light them up? What’s important to remember here is that you are God’s beloved child, that you belong to Him body and soul, and that there is no condemnation from Him. Conviction? Yes, but never shame. The goal here is to find joy when you’ve been good and faithful, and to identify the areas you need God’s grace to transform.

4 - Repent

Ask God’s forgiveness for the ways you have fallen short today. Invite the Holy Spirit to explore with you what may have motivated your mistakes, and to help you see where your heart needs to be transformed. Is there a particularly difficult situation that you need God’s guidance on? Is there a relationship you need to mend? Do your heart and mind need to be renewed? Believe that you’re fully forgiven, but be open to taking action to show your desire to change, if needed. 

This one’s especially hard for me - it’s tempting to ask for forgiveness knowing full well I have no intention of changing my actions, but so freeing when I take it seriously! The times when I have actually had to (gulp!) apologize to people are difficult, but the happy result is rebuilt trust and respect in my relationships. When we choose to truly see each other as image bearers, rather than enemies (or, let’s be honest, someone we reacted to out of frustration), then repenting gets easier, because the person we’ve wronged is just as beloved as we are.

5 - Hope for Tomorrow 

(This is my favourite part!) What do you look forward to for tomorrow? Where will God take you? Ask God to help you do better, to be more humble and teachable, and to walk with Him in your days ahead. Pray over the plans you have for the coming days, asking for God’s strength and peace. Expect that God’s Spirit will go with you and will show up in your thoughts, words, and deeds. Know that you, your community, and all of creation have a hope and a future that is in God’s hands. 

I get pretty excited when I think about tomorrow - I have so many plans! For work, for family, for friends, for my neighbourhood, for how the whole world can be a better place! I’m bursting with way too many ideas, and if left to my own devices, I’d try them all, and fail at half of them! This is where I offer up my plans to God with an open hand, trusting that the Spirit will inspire and empower the plans that are good news, and will sift out the ones that are not.

In this way, the daily examen has been a simple rhythm I’ve used to make sense of hectic days, and a guide to discern how to respond to the world around me. It has given me a space to confront my less healthy and less Christ-like reactions to the stresses of social isolation, has challenged me to deconstruct my privilege as I give space for the Spirit to break down my defensiveness, and it’s also been very hopeful and life-giving in helping me navigate through this strange time of the pandemic. Consider it for yourself, and I hope that the prayer of examen may be a helpful practice for some of you too!

Photo by Annie Theby on Unsplash

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