In my post “Prayerfulness,” I said that I seek to strengthen my prayer life by asking questions such as: How can I improve my prayers? How can reduce or eliminate distractions during prayer? How can I make prayer a more regular habit? In particular, I’d like to be able to clear my mind and focus on prayer without other thoughts intruding and distracting me.
So, during this first week of Lent, a time of growing closer to God, I decided to try a new podcast, The Examen with Fr. James Martin, S.J. The Examen, which was created by St. Ignatius Loyola, comes from the Latin word for examination, and it’s simply a review of your day in solitude and the presence of God.
According to Fr. Dennis Hamm, S.J., “the Examen contains five points: (1) to give thanks to God for the benefits I have received; (2) to ask for grace to know my sins and rid myself of them; (3) to ask an account of my soul from the hour of rising to the present Examen, hour by hour or period by period; first as to thought, then words, then deeds; (4) to ask pardon of God our Lord for my faults, and (5) to resolve, with his grace, to amend them. Close with an Our Father.”
In his podcast, Fr. Martin’s soothing voice leads us through these steps. Soft piano music plays in the background as he poses questions and then gives his listeners time to reflect. I found it very easy to achieve a relaxed, meditative state and then keep my attention on answering questions such as: Where did you notice God? Where did you encounter God? How did you respond? Where did you accept God’s invitation to be loving, to be grateful, to be yourself? Where did you turn away from God?
That last question is there to prompt us to engage in honest self-reflection about where we’re falling short so that we can ask God’s forgiveness and try to do better tomorrow.
The Examen has been around for 500 years, but Fr. Martin’s podcast, which will change every week, turns the prayer into a very helpful form of guided meditation. Listening to it has helped me get focused and stay focused so that I can develop more awareness of God’s presence in my day.
Fr. Hamm says we can think of this prayer as “looking through ‘the remains of the day’ to discover what God might be saying through one’s experience.” It’s one method for achieving the mission of St. Ignatius and the Jesuits: to “find God in all things.” When we’re able to do that, I think, we can better see how we can love and serve Him.