Romans 12. 1-2
4 March 2007
“The Prayer of Examen”
Rev. Dr. Craig A. Wagner
Isn’t it amazing how fast time flies? The days, weeks, months and even years seem to go so fast that it’s all I can do to keep everything current, much less even thinking I can get ahead on anything. It seems to be getting worse rather than better.
Our days are filled with so many things that we simply have to do. We work from morning until night and still there are items that are left undone. We try to solve our predicament by multitasking – making phone calls while driving, or even working on our computers while traveling at high speed down the express ways.
And it isn’t simply related to our work. Those with children at home understand that there are school events, sport events, and children are scheduled very heavily at a very young age. We just have to give them every opportunity! I get winded just thinking about the heavy schedules that so many of us have placed upon ourselves.
Life seems to just get away from us and we long for the time when we can relax and simply do what we want at a slower pace – but will that ever come?
The same sort of hectic pace that we experience every day of our week even permeates our life of faith. We are moving so fast that we barely have time to allow the spiritual part of our life to develop. With the rest of our life so scheduled and oriented toward a fast pace, we arrive at Sunday morning, and if we have nothing else on the agenda, we worship, but in that hour we simply want to feel God’s blessings and be soothed in our life so that we can leave after the hour is over and get back to the grind. Someone suggested that it is possible to go to worship every week and never take time for a spiritual examen.
This morning we are considering the prayer of examen as we continue in our series are “The Transforming Power of Prayer.” The prayer of examen can move us from the busyness of our life to a deeper relationship with our Lord and with others. BUT we need to make time for this transformation to happen.
The prayer of examen
As we begin to consider this prayer form, I want to clarify a few items. The first is that the word examen is spelled correctly, even though it appears to be a misspelling of the word examine. Secondly, the word is Latin in origin and refers to the weight indicator on a balance scale. It follows that the application to prayer life would be to accurately assess the true situation.
Therefore, in the “Prayer of Examen” we want to accurately assess the true situation of our faith – both in response to God’s presence in our life and also in our relationship with others; in order to do that we need to take time. Quiet and prayerful time needs to be set apart for this discipline. Before saying that we can not possible give the time to do this – consider what is most important in life? Quite obviously, it should go without saying that it is the time spent in our connection with God.
The prayer of examen actually includes two basic parts: They are the examen of consciousness and the examen of conscience. Let’s look at the examen of consciousness first: The examen of consciousness is all about recognizing that God is present with us each day and in every moment of time. As we take time apart and begin our inward exploration, the question arises: Do we feel God’s presence? Do we acknowledge God’s presence in us at all times? If God is present in our life does it show? How have we responded to God’s work within us? One area to consider is the question, how do I deal with rude people in my life? If someone cuts you off while driving on the highway or honks at you because you’re not moving fast enough, how do you respond? If someone is making a pest out of themselves, how do you react? If you are interrupted during dinner or have to change your plans for a Saturday afternoon – do we realize that our responses to other people are reflections of our faith in Christ? Think about the last time you had to deal with a rude person, or an interruption, how did you respond? Did you catch yourself doing something we regretted? God is in our actions.
As we pray this prayer and examine our consciousness we will become more aware of our surroundings and more aware of the people around us. We will be able to be there for others, just as Christ was there for the people in his day. As we are, the Lord will speak to us more and more through common everyday events and situations. I remember a time when I was on an airplane and the person next to me wanted to talk about religious matters, especially when he found out I was a pastor. Honestly, I simply wanted to read something light and entertaining not get involved in a theological conversation. But I did, I tried to be present for that person in that situation and to share my faith with him. In this part of the prayer, we ask God to lead us to recognize and live with the consciousness of our surroundings and of his presence.
The second part of the prayer of examen is when we examen our conscience. As the Psalmist prays, “Search me O God and know my hearts.” This prayer goes deep into our inner most being. This is the prayer that touches on our motives and our thoughts and our desires.
This is perhaps a harder prayer for us because it drills right to the matters of the heart – including some of our favorite sins – it touches on the purity of the heart and exposes those areas that need cleansing, purifying and healing. This is the prayer where we lay our inner being open for God’s examining.
The good news is that God is with us in our searching and in our examination of our conscience. If that were not so, two things might occur: (a) we might be given to gloss over our sinfulness and somehow justify our thoughts and desires. Perhaps we would say to ourselves that everyone is doing it therefore it is not so bad! Or (b) we might be tempted to go in the other direction toward self-flagellation. Thinking that we are so bad that nothing can help us and everything is doomed. God is with us reminding of forgiveness and life and love in him. Therefore with the Lord searching us and leading us toward self-knowledge, there is grace and mercy for us.
Now that we have considered the two aspects of the “Prayer of Examen” the next question is how do we practice this? Simply we practice by turning inward. We are so used to being challenged to live out our faith in the world that when we hear the advice to turn inward, we hesitate. But let me assure you that by turning inward God’s spirit will transform us both inwardly and outwardly. And we will grow spiritually.
Anthony Bloom wrote, “You prayers must be turned inwards, not towards a God of Heaven nor toward a God far off, but towards a God who is closer to you than you are aware.” God is all around us and in us. And so we turn inwards. We begin by journeying into ourselves. We can only do this as we take, make time in our busy schedule to do this. In bed at night before sleeping, review and reflect on the events of the day and the people with whom you interacted. Consider praying about those folks. Consider your motives and thoughts and desire during the day – pray for God’s loving presence and forgiveness and then feel the presence of God sweep over you.
Accomplish this turning inward by erecting what Richard Foster describes as your personal Ebenezers. An Ebenezer in the Old Testament was a stone that was placed to commemorate a victory over the Philistines. It helped the people remember. What can help us remember to pray the prayer of examen? One suggestion is keeping a spiritual journal. This is a highly intentional reflection on the events of the day. It is different from a diary in that it focuses on why and wherefore rather than who and what. In this type of journal you wouldn’t simply write that the sun came up at 6:00 a.m. but rather why the suns rising touched your heart in a special way. You wouldn’t write about meeting certain people during the day, but rather how they impacted your spiritual life, or yours theirs.
In a spiritual journal a person can expound on the feeling and thoughts and motives and desires that are on your heart and those areas where you need a special touch of God’s presence. By doing this you can turn back to the pages written last week or month or year and remember God’s presence and forgiveness and love. This doesn’t even have to be done each day – but as it is accomplished you can sense your spiritual journey.
Of course not everyone is into writing or journaling. Perhaps going to a favorite place, where it is quiet and you have time think and pray will help you remember to pray this prayer of examen.
Personally, I spend time on my bicycle – it is a quiet time on neighborhood roads that allows me to move inwards in my prayer life. Find a place, keep a journal but above all, pray, inwardly in prayerful examen – assess your life, your spiritual life and allow God to do a spiritual inventory of your life and the experience a transformation of your life inwardly and outwardly – do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the presence of God.
Foster tells the story of a woman who all week long tries to live as an heir of God’s power, doing his work and thinking his thoughts. She is very busy and tightly scheduled, as all of us are. On Friday or Saturday evening she leaves the heights and the busyness of the week and comes down into the depths of her being, asking the spirit to guide her back over the week to any sin or failing that needs his forgiveness. Then she enters a time of repentance and concludes this time on Sunday morning in Holy Communion – ready for the next week, transformed by the power of prayer. Amen.