It’s a no-brainer to say life can be incredibly fast paced and busy for many people! There are more demands for our time than time in a day, and yet we strive to do it all, aware that many things fall through the cracks. Time with God, (prayer) can be one of those things that fall through the cracks. If you're like me, you know you need it, you know you want to but often it gets pushed to the fringes of life. Relegated to when someone cuts you off in traffic or as one fades off into a nights sleep. Sometimes we can feel a sense of guilt and we try harder. It might even work for a day or two before it gets lost again.
Surely there must be a way to pray that I can honor my relationship with God and still do the things I need to get done? There is! And it is a practice that is over 450 years old created by Spaniard by the name of Ignatius. Ignatius would go on to become the founder of a religious movement called the Jesuits.
As you can appreciate with all this on the go, time was tight, and Ignatius needed a way in which they could still be deliberate in prayer. More than just not petitions but to listen, to discern where and what God was up to in their lives and work. The current model of retreat to a monastery and hours of prayer was not an option for a group of people who, above all, were interested in saving souls. This core value led them to some amazing innovation and led them to enter a variety of different ventures to do so. Some explored and made maps, some taught students and leaders, many entered the sciences, philosophy and some were trusted advisers to leaders of empires.
So how do people who are very active, very busy and often in some very challenging and hostile environments maintain the anchor or relationship with God and vibrancy of faith? Ignatius developed and encouraged the use of the Examen.
The Examen of Consciousness is a prayer strategy that in basic terms is Spirit-led reflection of the events of one's day paying careful attention to your emotions around each event that comes to mind. The name of this spiritual exercise is often misleading, as many mistake it as an examination of your conscience - you know the things you feel bad about (like going through your heart with the devil and a fine-toothed comb). This is not the case as Jim Manney, SJ writes in The Prayer That Changes Everything: Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola's Examen
“Then I learned that the Ignatian Examen was not the old depressing Examination of Conscience. Quite the opposite. This was a prayer that focused on God’s presence in the real world. It looked to a God who was near to me, present in my world, and active in my life. It told me to approach prayer with gratitude, not guilt. It helped me find God in my life as I lived it, not in some heavenly realm beyond space and time. The Examen had me take myself seriously as I am, not as I wished I was or thought I could be someday if I worked hard enough.”
Termed as Prayer-on-the-go, the examen is very easy to fit a busy day. As little as 15 minutes over a cup of tea, the bus or train to work, lunch break or just before bed. The Examen can become a helpful tool and a time of refreshing, reflection and discernment in busy seasons of life. The Examen helps cultivate a healthy sense of self-awareness, the inner rhythms of life. This just means I pay careful attention to my life, my emotions, my actions, my relationships with the guidance of God. It also helps cultivate an awareness of God and the practice of looking for God’s presence in the everyday activities of life.
The Basic Steps
Allow yourself to become still and quiet
Take a deep breath and let it out. Try to find a quiet place where you can be alone and undisturbed but riding public transit or during a break works well too! Ask for the grace to notice God’s loving presence with you.
Ask for the grace to be aware of Gods presence
With the Spirit, reflect on the events and interactions of your day. If the days seems confusing, hard to recall or just one of those days - ask God for peace, clarity and understanding.
Reflect upon your day from a posture of gratitude
- What event, interaction or thought seems to stand out the most to you?
- What things happened in your day that were perhaps gifts to you?
- In what ways may you have been or given a gift to someone else?
- In what situations did you experience Gods presence and in which situations did you not?
- Pay attention to your emotions
Ignatius believed we could experience the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Think of feelings you experienced during the day. What may God be saying through these feelings?
- Start to pray (talk to God) about the event or situation
Ask God to direct you to a situation, thought, interaction or even something simple. Be thoughtful about the specific situation and take some time to listen and respond prayerfully to what you are sensing. The response may be gratitude, worship or even asking for forgiveness. God may help you see a false belief you may have about a situation or yourself and perhaps give you a different way of looking at the situation. Or perhaps it can be as simple as just enjoying the company of your loving, interested God.
- Ask God for grace for tomorrow
Pay attention to feelings and ask for guidance, strength and hope for the day, the meeting, tomorrow, etc.!
Be aware of the feeling you have as you think about the day to come, the meeting and so forth and take those feeling to God. If you are feeling anxious, stressed, angry or joyful, excited or peaceful talk to God about these feeling and offer thanks and ask for help, wisdom and strength if need be.
A few helpful suggestions
- Consider a few lines in a journal to summarize your time in prayer and any impressions, situations or thoughts you may have and what you may sense God is saying to you during this time.
- Try a conversational style when praying. Jesus really is a dear friend. Relax, talk and take time to be quiet and listen
- Review your journal once a month
- look for themes
- answer to prayer
- any change in your feelings about a situation
What do I do if I become aware that I have made a mistake, sinned or behaved poorly?
Upon reflection you may realize that in some way you fell short - made a mistake, reacted poorly in a situation. Be sure to not receive this as a personal condemnation or rejection from God. Rather note these issues and look deeper for possible reasons why you did what you did. Invite God into these feelings and ask for help. Perhaps feelings of frustration suggest that God may want you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Maybe you’re concerned about a friend? Perhaps God may be leading you to reach out to them in some way.
You may also want to consider apologizing and doing what is possible to make the situation right. This can be difficult and humbling but this too can be a gift from God.