Examen: Starting Point for Discernment

The challenge: learning to live close to the heart of God and be attentive to your own spirit. Only then do we discern the movements of our own spirit that either mirror or show opposition to the movements of God’s Spirit. A basic starting point to learn discernment is the Examen – a prayerful review of the day where we allow God to bring the important events of the day to mind, with an eye toward discerning when we were aware of God’s presence and when we were not. We then prepare for the day ahead.

Asking the Spirit for help in seeing our day
The Spirit calls us to action, moving in us and through us. The Spirit works in and through others and helps us in our relationship with God. What a gift we have in the Great Advocate who labors on our behalf. 

We recall the day, like watching a Netflix documentary of our last 24 hours, naming, celebrating, and thanking God for the gifts of the day. God is working on our behalf through all parts of our lives, sometimes without us even realizing it. What a gift; God uses all things in this world so that we might come to know God!

Be attentive to periods in the day when we felt aligned with God and on solid ground. We notice all the ways God showed up in our day. The simple act of noticing how God breaks into our day reminds us that we are not alone. What a gift for us not to have to walk through life alone. 

Without judgement towards self, we acknowledge the times we did not choose love. We turn to God and ask for forgiveness and help in not sinning again. We are reminded, again, that we are not alone, even in our battle against sin and evil. What a gift we have in God’s mercy and forgiveness. 

Turning to tomorrow
We look to our next 24 hours, and we ask for God’s grace and help in living as God sees fit for us. What a gift that we have an assurance that we will not be alone tomorrow. 

Praying the Examen cultivates a heart of thanksgiving. It is from this stance of thanksgiving that God stirs us to action because, as we do our part in helping bring around God’s Kingdom, we know that we are never alone. And if we forget this at any point, all we have to do is pause and pray the Examen and let the Holy Spirit remind us again of God’s abundant labor on our behalf.

Marking Questions
Consolation is when the heart turns toward God. 

  1. When, today, did I feel most touched by the presence of God? 
  2. What events, relationships, or thoughts of the day drew me closer to God? 
  3. When did I feel most free today? 
  4. What was the most life-giving part of my day? 
  5. What was most joyful about my day? 

Desolation is moving away from God’s active presence in the world.  

  1. When, today, did I sense being drawn away from God? 
  2. When did I feel most dissatisfied and restricted today? 
  3. Was there any time today when I felt discouraged? 
  4. What was the most draining part of my day? 
  5. Was there a time today when I felt guilty, ashamed, or lonely? 

Note: experiencing even a low level of anxiety is a telltale sign of desolation.

Adapted from works by David Benner and Vicki Wehmeyer