The Examen
   
What is the Examen?


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The examen is a prayerful reflection from the Spiritual Exercises which has become a key part of Jesuit life and which can have a powerful impact on the lives of those who use it. It consists of setting time aside each day (for Ignatius twice a day, at midday and the end of the day) to reflect prayerfully on the events of the day and where God has been in those events.

The examen is an exercise in the practice of attentiveness to my lived experience and also in the art of discernment - becoming aware of the ways in which God is active in my life and resolving to co-operate better with his gifts and calling.

The examen should be embedded in the life of Jesuit schools as a way of encouraging pupils and staff to reflect on their experience and to explore the ways in which God is present in that experience.

How to do the Examen

There are five steps to the Examen as it appears in the Spiritual Exercises (n.43) of St Ignatius Loyola:

1 Give thanks
Spend a few moments in gratitutde for the gifts and blessings of the day.

2 Ask for light
Ask God to enlighten you, showing where he has been at work and present in your day through events, people and places.

3 Examine the day
Review the moments of the day, noticing what has led to consolation and what has led to desolation and my reactions to these events, people and places (see below on consolation and desolation).

4 Seek forgiveness
Ask God's forgiveness for the times when you have acted, spoken or thought contrary to his grace and calling for you.

5 Resolve to change
Decide what in your behaviour or attitude you will try to improve tomorrow.

The examen might take 10 to 15 minutes to complete but can also be done in a much shorter time in school.

The Ignatian Concepts of Consolation & Desolation

St Ignatius' use of the concepts of consolation and desolation are critical to understanding and practising the examen.

Consolation is when something is deeply and genuinely good for us, good for our souls, leads us towards God and away from our selfish preoccupations.

Desolation is when something is not good for us, when we are wrapped up in ourselves, and careless of God's gifts and grace working in us, when we substitute other things in place of God.

Note that Ignatius means spiritual consolation/desolation. While these may be found in our thoughts and emotional responses, they are not the same as our feelings of delight and despair.

St Ignatius gives us a quick rule of thumb to 'test' whether something is truly consolation or truly desolation: by noticing the faith, hope and love in us. Something that is truly consolation will show itself in an increase in faith (ie. self-confidence in myself, in my family, in my colleagues and pupils, in society in general and in God), an increase in hope (ie. I am positive about things, always seeing the best, seizing the little opportunities that come my way, having a reason to get out of bed in the morning), and an increase in love (ie. the loving and compassionate ways I treat those around me, especially those I find difficult to love).

 

faith hope love

The Examen and the Rio Action Plan

The Action Plan from the International Congress of Education Delegates held in Rio in 2017, calls for "the delegates commit to promote the Examen of Consciousness in each of the schools to help students listen to their inner voice and learn the path of interiority."

The Rio Papers (pdf)

Leading the Examen in Schools

If you are responsible for leading the examen in a school, here are some points to think about:

The examen needs to have a familiar and regular 'routine' to it. Don't be tempted to use new formats all the time.

There needs to be an 'examen time' and an 'examen space'. How best can you create these in your situation?

It can be useful to have images on a screen for each of the five steps of the examen. And music can also help children settle quickly. But as children get used to the examen try to use fewer external supports and get them to internalize this spiritual exercise.

The examen is not about what made you feel good and what made you feel bad today (although this may be where you start). It is about following Jesus and living the gospel. The examen is an opportunity to review how well I am doing as a disciple of Jesus.

One of the fruits of the examen is to begin to notice patterns of consolation and desolation in my life and their causes. This is only achieved if the examen is used regualrly, even daily.

Adults do not always have to lead the examen. Children can often do it very well, even better!

Linking the Examen to the Jesuit Pupil Profile

Grateful
Attentive
Curious

Faith-filled
Hopeful
Loving

DiscerningIntentional
Generous

Active

Many of the virtues from the Jesuit Pupil Profile can be linked with the spirtual exercise of the examen:

In the first step of the examen, I am grateful for all the gifts God bestows on me daily.

I then ask God to help me become attentive to my experience and curious about the ways in which he has been at work in my life today.

As I discern what has led to consolation and what has led to desolation, I use St Ignatius' 'test' of faith, hope and love. An increase in faith, hope and love suggests that an experience is truly consolation. A decrease in faith, hope and love suggests that an experience is likely to be desolation.

The outcome of the examen is generous action in leading a more (magis) intentional life based on the good news of Jesus Christ, the values of his gospel.

Examen: A Summary (linked to JPP) (pdf)
More on the Jesuit Pupil Profile

Examen Resources: Texts

The Examen: A Way to Pray each Day

This leaflet was produced by the Jesuit Institute as a quick way into the Examen. It uses the five fingers of the hand as an easy way of remembering the steps of the Examen.

The Examen: A Way to Pray Each Day

Consciousness Examen

This seminal article from 1972 by George Aschenbrenner SJ reconsidered the way in which Jesuits and others used the examen. It was part of the "rediscovery" of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and has been highly influential in proposing a way of using the examen for our own times.

Consciousness Examen
Reprinted in the British Province with permission.

 

Using the Examen

A very short article by Joseph Tetlow SJ (2011) introducing the examen to those who may not have used it before.

Using the Examen

 

The Examen: A Summary

A one-sheet quick summary of the dynamics of the examen linked to the Jesuit Pupil Profile virtues. This resource is also available as an animated powerpoint slide.

The Examen: A Summary
The Examen: A Summary (animated ppt)
Jesuit Pupil Profile

 

The Examen Handbook

A guide for leading others through the prayer of the examen by Ross Jones SJ (2017).

The Examen Handbook
Used with permission

 

Daydreaming Revisisted
A Psychology for the Examen Explored

An article by Andre Walker in The Way (2003)

Daydreaming Revisited

 

The Ignatian Examen
A Method of Theological Reflection

An article by Donald St Louis in The Way

The Ignatian Examen

 

Examination of Conscience
and Revision de Vie

An article by Jaques Pasquier in The Way

Examination of Conscience

 

A Prayer for Light
Adrian Porter SJ

The second step of the examen is asking God for light to show where he has been present in the experiences of my day. This prayer could be used or adapted:

Lord,
let me be still
and at peace,
just for a few moments,
in the busy-ness
of my day.
Let me be attentive
to where I have been
and where I am headed.
And let me see where
you have been present
in my life
today.
Amen.

 
 

A Simple Examen Prayer
Adrian Porter SJ

This simple examen prayer can be used to introduce the examen each time with younger children:

At the end of this day, let us pause and pray.
Let us raise our minds and hearts to God
who walks with us each step of our way.

 

Quotations

"We're already in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness."
Richard Rohr OFM (b.1943)

"The unexamined life is not worth living."
Socrates (d.399BC)

“What then ought a person do who has been thought worthy to bear the great name of Christ?  What else except to examine carefully in themself their thoughts and words and deeds to see whether they one and all tend towards Christ or are foreign to them . . . and so there is a harmony between the hidden inner person and the outward appearance."
St Gregory of Nyssa (335-94)

 
Examen Resources: Images  

Spiritual Exercises Week 1 Painting

This painting by Catalan artists Gemma Guasch and Josep Asuncion hangs in the entrance to the spirituality centre at Manresa where, in the cave above which it is built, St Ignatius prayed and wrote the beginnings of the Spiritual Exercises in 1522. It is the first of four canvases representing the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises.

This painting can help explain the dynamic of the First Week of the Exercises and especially of the examen.

The painting may be interpreted as representing me. The bright patches and lines in white, orange and yellow, represent all that is best in me. It is what Christian theology calls the 'imago Dei' doctrine: the belief that I am made in the 'image and likeness' of God, my creator (cf. Genesis 1:26), and brought to life with God's own breath/spirit (cf. Genesis 2:7).

In front of the bright colours are dark blotches and lines which may be represented as the less good side of me - the stuff that spoils my best self and gets in the way of my growing to be what God calls me to be.

All people are a mixture of the good and the bad. The examen is a spiritual exercise which helps us be attentive to the good and the bad, to focus clearly on it, to grow the good, and resolve to deal with the bad. This is the art of discernment.

Spiritual Exercises painting (jpg)

Photograph © 2018 Jesuit Institute London

Les Quatres Setmanes d’Exercicis Espirituales I
Gemma Guasch & Josep Asuncion
Cova de Sant Ignasi, Manresa, Spain

 

Hand Examen

from a 1620 Antwerp edition of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius

In the palm of the hand are the words from Psalm 118:109, "Anima mea in manibus mei semper" ("My spirit is always in my hands"). More often the sentiment in the psalms is that we are in God's hands - so this reminds us that we each have personal responsibility for the direction of our own lives.

The five fingers represent the five steps of the examen:

1 Gratias age (give thanks)
The image shows a person kneeling in gratitude before God the Father, creator of all good things.

2 Pete lumen (ask for light)
The image shows a person praying to the Holy Spirit (sybolized as a dove) for enlightenment.

3 Examina (examine)
The image shows a person contemplating the call of Jesus.

4 Dole (be sorry)
The image shows a person contemplating the scene of the crucifixion of Jesus who died for our sins.

5 Propone (resolve)
The image shows a person slaying a dragon - what dragons do I need to slay tomorrow?

Ignatius intended the spiritual exercises of the First Week for the simple and uneducated aand for the spiritually inexperienced. Many of these people could not read and so using the fingers of the hand as a mnemonic for the five steps of the examen would have been exactly the sort of adaptation Ignatius would have welcomed.

Hand examen (jpg)
Hand examen sheet (MS Word)

 

Artwork for Five Finger Examen

Schools have used the fingers artwork from the Jesuit Institute examen leaflet for powerpoint presentations, in homework diaries, and in other ways.

1 Thumbs up (png)
2 Pointing finger (png)
3 Middle finger (png)
4 Ring finger (png)
5 Little finger (png)

 

Examen Poster
from the SeeingMore Ignatian spirituality website of the Jesuits in the Netherlands.

Examen Poster (pdf)
Reproduced with permission

 
More Examen Resources  

Case Study - Examen at SJB

How the examen was introduced and used at St John's Beaumont - a Jesuit prep school for boys, ages 3-13.

The Examen at SJB

 

Examen Presentation 1

An autoplay powerpoint examen from Wimbledon College by James Potter. This powerpoint presentation includes an introduction to the examen as well as the exercise itself.

Examen presentation 1 (ppt)

 

Examen Presentation 2

A powerpoint examen from Wimbledon College by James Potter, including an introdution to the examen exercise.

Examen presentation 2 (ppt)

 

Footsteps

This well-known anonymous story could be used to introduce the examen - showing how God accompanies us each step of our lives but we often are not attentive to his presence and so assume his absence.

One night I dreamed a dream
that I was walking along the sands with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
one belonging to me
and one to the Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This greatly troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it:
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
you'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest
and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why,
when I needed you the most,
you would leave me."

He whispered, "My precious child,
I love you and will never leave you.
Never, ever, during your trials and testings,
when you saw only one set of footprints,
did I leave you.
It was then that I carried you."

Footsteps (pdf)

 

The Sunflower

This image was created in mosaic in the floor of the entrance to the cave at Manresa (where St Ignatius wrote much of the Spiritual Exercises in 1522) to mark the 400th anniversary of Ignatius' stay there.

As the sunflower turns towards the sun, and tracks the sun's movement across the sky, it grows and flourishes. As we turn towards God, and receive his grace moment by moment, we grow and flourish.

"I will consider how all good things and gifts descend from [God] above . . . just as the the rays come down from the sun . . ." (St Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises n.237)

Sunflower (1922) by Martí Coronas SJ
Image © 2018 Jesuit Institute London