I think I was first introduced to the idea of the Prayer of Examen by Richard Foster about 12 or so years ago in his book Prayer. Foster’s chapter on the Examen is about five pages and cannot go into the detail that an entire book does. I have attempted to do the prayer of examen over the years, but at least in Gallagher’s presentation, I have always been missing part of the prayer.
Early in the book Gallagher has a summary of the prayer:
Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.
Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.
Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.
Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I look also for those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.
Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.
These five steps are expounded on in the first section of the book, and then additional thoughts are later. But what I think is often missing in Protestant presentation are these two reminders:
This practice begins when, like Ignatius, we grasp the unique role that a faithfully made examen can play toward fulfilling this desire. More is involved in the practice of examen than desire alone, and this book will explore these further issues. But the root of the practice of examen will always be desire: a desire that is an awareness of the immense love of the God who is ever close to us, a desire enkindled within us when we wish to respond daily, moment by moment, to God’s love, and a desire that is, finally, a gift to be sought in humble and trusting prayer to the God who promises that searching hearts will find their desire (Luke 11:9).
For Ignatius, God’s love is always the first consideration, and all else is viewed after and only in the light of this love.3 The first step in the examen, and the basis for all that follows, is simply to notice the endless outpouring of God’s gifts of love to us in the day. When the human heart knows that another heart loves it deeply, faithfully, and unconditionally, it loses all fear. It may ask with trust for any forgiveness it seeks because it already knows that it is unshakably loved. The prayer of step one (gratitude) is uniquely powerful in preparing space in our hearts for the prayer of step four (forgiveness).
One other aspect that I have never noticed in my prior understanding of the Prayer of Examen is that Gallagher suggests that it is ‘most difficult…and hardest to sustain when we are spiritually alone.’ Because I was reading this in the context of my class on spiritual direction (and because Gallagher is a teacher of spiritual directors), this is where I naturally go. But Gallagher also is assuming that the prayer of examen is done within a life that is in the church.
At the end of the book, Gallagher quotes Marian Cowan with an alternative summary that I think is helpful.
“On reflection, one finds that these five steps actually are the five successive moments in any dynamic movement of personal love: what we always say to a person whom we truly love, in the order in which we want to say it: 1. ‘Thank you. . . ’ 2. ‘Help me. . . . ’ 3. ‘I love you. . . . ’ ‘I really do love you, in spite of the weaknesses and failure in my response. . . . ’ 4. ‘I’m sorry. . . . ’ 5. ‘Be with me.’ ”