I find the Examen prayer to be a great way of discovering my deepest desires. The Examen prayer is something that has been used in monastic setups for centuries. Recently, With the popularization of Christian spiritual practices among Evangelicals, the Examen prayer has come into vogue. And I am excited!
The Examen prayer was started by St. Ignatius as a way of examination of consciousness. I am adding a little bit of a twist to the practice in order to frame it as a way of discovering our deep desires which I believe aligns with the spirit of what St. Ignatius was getting at.
The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.
Prayerfully submit to God and ask for His help in order to spiritually ponder the following questions.
1. When did I feel most loved today?
2. When did I feel least loved today?
3. When was I most aware of God’s presence today?
4. When was I least aware of God’s presence today?
5. What desires for future really captivated me today? Did my desires comport with my love for God and love for neighbor?
Pray for God to strengthen you to face the next day.
This exercise, when done daily over a period of time helps achieved the following
1. Greater self-awareness – just knowing the different influences on your life.
2. Greater sensitivity to God’s presence, in the form of the Spirit of Christ in our lives. The Spirit of Christ is always with us – our awareness of it goes up or down based on what we are paying attention to at a given time.
3. Discovery of deep desires: This exercise helps us to see how our desires move based on events of the day. For example, a deep desire to quit your job may have strongly moved you during the day. Then, at the end of the day, you do the examen prayer and you will remember that the moment when you felt least loved was when your co-worker was mean. Then you may realize that your desire to quit your job came our of the anxiety of dealing with a mean co-worker. So it may not have been God’s voice speaking to you prodding you to quit. Rather, it may have just been your own anxiety sowing the desire to quit. (Of course, it is possible God is speaking to you through your anxiety… if the trend is consistent over a period of time then it has to be taken seriously). You will discover some desires come up within you when you are in a state of spiritual tranquility* – these are the desires you want to pay attention to. Pay attention to how your desires move when your sensitivities are greatly attuned to God’s presence in you – these are likely to be your deepest desires. For example, for me when I am prayerful the desire to write to bring glory to God and love neighbor is kindled in me. The desires that God has placed in you and the ones which get kindled when your spirit rests tranquilly in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.
As you keep doing the Examen prayer over a period of time. You will begin to notice patters – you will begin to see that when you are anxious your desires move in one way (quitting the job in the example above) then when you are in a state of spiritual rest/consolation your desires moved in a different way (writing to glorify God in the example above). Seeing consistency in these patterns will help you to parse through the desires that arise out of fear or compulsion in order to truly discover what your deepest, God created, desire is.
*Spiritual Tranquility – I will need to do a different post on the topic of spiritual tranquility.