Written on 5th March 2014
The period of Lent begins today and ends on 19th April. The big question for most is ‘What should I give up? Most are likely to give up chocolates, wine, red meat or other fine foods. I was in a conversation with a friend last night who informed me that giving something up should only be from Mon – Sat as Sundays are reserved for celebrations/feasting. This was a new revelation for me but I like the idea. Mondays – Saturdays reserved for reflection on the journey of Christ to the cross but Sundays reserved for celebration. In saying that I will reserve my feasting for Palm Sunday – a moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels.
Personally, I am not into giving up over Lent. Yes I have fasted over the 40 days period while at Bible College, breaking my fast at 6pm and including a light soup in preparation for the next day – A Muslim fast as a friend would call it.
For this lenten period I am adding something to my spiritual life. Through my spiritual director here in SA, I’ve been introduced to – The Prayer of Examen.
The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise typically credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola [1491-1556], who encouraged fellow followers to engage in the practice for developing a deeper level of spiritual sensitivity and for recognizing and receiving the assistance of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the practice is increasingly becoming aware of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout your day.
I have been doing this to strengthen me during my time in SA and found it really helpful especially in showing more gratitude in my present situation.
This Prayer of Examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions [presence, gratitude, review, and response], to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. It is recommended that you find yourself a quiet place.
Begin this practice by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God’s presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God’s presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a simple phrase during this time, like “Be still and know that I am God” [Psalm 46v10].
Take some time and focus on the nearness of God. Open yourself to His presence. I find it helpful starting off with reading the scriptures to remind me of the presence of God. Some recommended passages are;
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” [Psalm 145v18]
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, Psalm 145: 9]
The second area of Examen is GRATITUDE
“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’ wrote Meister Eckhart, that would suffice.”
As you think about the past 24 hours, what causes you to be thankful? Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life, and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit centre on the goodness and generosity of God.
Journaling is recommended, this I find very useful. Capturing your thanks in writing is an amazing experience. I remember having a bad day and in doing the prayer of Examen one night I could not stop journaling the many things I had to be thankful for. This was an eye-opener and made me realise how I spend most days focusing on the bad and as a result miss out on the great things God is doing in my life. I find it a great encouragement to be reminded of God’s goodness in my life.
Reflection: Looking back on the last 24 hrs. – for what are you most grateful?
What makes you feel thankful?
Use simple words to express your gratitude.
“Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” [Ephesians 1v3]
The Third area of Examen is REVIEW
Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today.
“Where did the time go?” we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God’s activity in our lives.
The key is to look back objectively, not to interpret, criticise, rationalise or justify, the aim is to observe not to remember. To help bring specific experiences to mind, ask yourself these questions:
When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life?
When were you resisting?
What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
Use this scripture to help you along the review process.
“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul…Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” [Psalm 143 v 8b, 10]
The prayer of Examen is not meant to be a lengthy process; just 10 minutes out of your day will suffice. I find it better to do it at the end of the day then I can wake up with a thankful spirit and a better frame of mind but it can also be done at the start of the day or mid-day. There is no hard and fast rule, it can be done daily or when you feel the need to.
For Lent my plan is to do this on a daily basis as I feel the need to and I have benefitted greatly from this exercise. I also feel that there are areas that I need to review daily and it will help me in my spiritual growth in identifying areas of conflict and struggles , areas I need to ask forgiveness for , areas that time and time again inhibits my spiritual growth.
This takes me into the fourth part of the prayer of Examen.
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you’ve remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward. Allow your observations to guide your responses.
Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
Then respond with a prayer or a verse of scripture;
“Ever-present Father, help me to meet you in the Scriptures I read and the prayers I say; in the bread I break and the meals I share; in my investments at work and my enjoyments at play; and in the neighbours and family I welcome, love, and serve, for your sake and that your love and peace may reign now and forever. Amen.”
You’re my place of quiet retreat, I wait for your Word to renew me….Therefore I lovingly embrace everything you say (Psalm 119: 114 – 119 (MSG)
As you embark on this spiritual exercise – The Payer of Examen
“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” [Hebrews 13 v 20-21]
Whatever you give up or add to your spiritual journey – Enjoy Lent!
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again!