Saturday 4 August 2012

One More Time: On the Examen Prayer

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

The examination of consciousness – or the Examen prayer – is a staple in the lives of all Jesuits. We all do it, and with good reasons. It allows us to see how the Lord has (or has not) been working in our lives each day; we see his fingerprints, and we also see which area of our lives need the grace of God so to further more growth. I shall hereby use two analogies to highlight its importance.

For those of you who have had the opportunity to work with quantitative data in any kind of research, or if you recall the days of good ol' high school math, you will know the graph with the x and y axes. It is often on such a graph configuration that we plot our data points, to see what our results are telling us. If we have a few data points, we may be able to see how the line is shaping up, but we simply cannot be sure of its accuracy. On the other hand, we can be much more certain of the shape of the graph – and hence what the data are indicating – when more data points are collected and plotted. A line with 25 data points is much more reliable than that with 5.

Where am I going with this? I believe the Examen prayer is what generates the data points for us to plot the graph, to see and understand how the Lord has been working in and through us. If we do it once a week, it is one datum point; it tells us something, and it may even give us a sense of achievement. But ultimately, the power lies in the consistent praying of the Examen. We begin to see the curve of the line: how we are doing the will of God, and where is he leading us. We see the pattern of our spiritual lives.

If you are not scientifically inclined, here is a more artsy analogy. We can think of a collage, a picture sometimes made up of hundreds and thousands of smaller pictures. If we only see a small percentage of the smaller pictures, the larger pattern in the collage will not be so evident; it is only with many pictures that the gestalt, or figure as a whole, can be seen. In effect, the datum that an Examen prayer generates is one of those smaller pictures. It has its own meaning, but it does not tell us much about the meaning of the collage. It is only when these smaller pictures are accumulated and compiled that the bigger picture appears, that is, how God's plan for us is playing out in our daily lives. We can see our Christian vocation being illustrated in a picture when we are faithful to the Examen prayer, and the more we do it, the more we see. It may first appear as a flower, but then it turns into a garden with more “smaller pictures”, and finally a garden within the King's royal palace.

Through the Examen prayer, the Lord allows us to see the emergence of his overarching theme of love for us in our day-to-day reality. If you are interested in this, I invite you to give the Examen prayer a try. Multiple tries.

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