Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1: Ending With Examen
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
I Pray The Lord My Soul To Keep
If I Should Die Before I Wake
I Pray The Lord My Soul To Take
This was one of the very first prayers I learned as a child, a prayer for the end of the day. Of course, the odds of a healthy child dying in his sleep were pretty small and worrying that I might die didn’t exactly help me get to sleep.
So I have another end-of-day spiritual discipline to suggest to you – one that isn’t quite so morbid. It’s called the Examen. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the Examen is a spiritual tool for reflecting on the day as it draws to a close. It makes a great prayer as you lie in bed and drift off to sleep.
There are five steps to the Examen:
First, invoke God. Become aware of the presence of God within you and around you. Ask the Spirit to guide you through this process of reflection, to give clarity to your memory and honesty to your evaluation.
Second, reflect on the day with gratitude. Thinking back on everything that happened today, be intentional about thinking God for the many ways you were blessed. Think about those small blessings which we all too often overlook – a smile from a stranger, a compliment, a nice meal. If you get to drive to work instead of walking, be thankful for that. If you are laying on a mattress in a warm house during this reflection, be thankful for that.
Third, reflect on your emotions throughout the day. What events triggered an emotional response from you, and what were those emotions? Were you bored? Excited? Happy? Sad? Angry? Impatient? Probably you experienced several different emotions throughout the day. Pay attention to them. Your emotional responses provide insight into what is going on deep within yourself, and can also help you to sense when something in your life – including yourself – needs to change.
Fourth, after reflecting on the day, choose one thing you thought about and pray about it. Maybe it’s a prayer of thanksgiving to God for something good that happened today. Maybe it’s a prayer of confession as you looked back and realized that you did something you shouldn’t have done. Maybe it’s a prayer for clarity about something that happened today that still doesn’t make sense. Let the Spirit guide you.
Finally, look forward to the day ahead. Ask God to give you strength and peace and wisdom to face the challenges of tomorrow. As you do, pay attention to your feelings. Are you excited about tomorrow? Are you nervous? Let these feelings guide your prayer.
The Examen has become my new favorite bedtime prayer, and I hope that you’ll try it and find it helpful as you close the day in the presence of God. It has the added benefit of not scaring your kids.
Next week I’ll be taking a detour, but watch for “Spiritual Disciplines, Part 2” on November 4th and “Spiritual Disciplines, Part 3” on November 11th.