I first became aware of doing an annual Examen when reading “Sleeping with heart bread” by Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Linn. The two brothers had long had the practice of going away with friends to share what had happened to them over the previous years, in order to examine where they were spiritually. It also became used as a discernment tool when others noticed patterns in what was shared. When Dennis married Sheila, the three of them carried on the practice together.

The principles in doing a daily Examen can be used for an annual one. The most important thing to remember is that you are noticing what went on inside you in God’s presence. It is an activity that you do with God and with an awareness that he loves you. This is not a self improvement exercise nor is it one that is about judgement or fault. Of course there might be sorrow and sadness but there isn’t a sense of being condemned.

There are different ways of doing it:

  • When I did mine, I replayed the year in my head, using chronological events to help track through what had happened. I also used some of what I had written in my journal and in assignments to help me. I was already aware of some aspects. Going through chronologically helped me see how things developed, getting a feel for the over all dynamic of the year spiritually.
  • The Linns suggest doing this with friends where each person shares aspects of their year and then hears the response of the others to what they have heard. They share where there have been times of drawing closer to God or turning away from him. Earlier in ‘Sleeping with heart bread’ they share questions that can be used to help this process:
    • What am I most grateful for? What am I least grateful for?
    • What were the high points? What were the low points?
    • When did I give and receive the most love? When did I give and receive the least love?
    • When did I feel most alive? When did I feel most drained of life?
  • On youtube, one Jesuit shares how he asks himself in his daily Examen ‘Where did I see the face of God?’ ‘In whom did I see the face of God?’ and ‘Where did I fail to see the face of God?’ He likens not seeing the face of God to wearing lenses over his eyes that stop him seeing properly and so he also asks “What were the lenses that stopped me seeing the face of God?’
  • Ignatianspirituality.com gives the following format for the Examen:
    • Become aware of God’s presence.
    • Review the day with gratitude.
    • Pay attention to your emotions.
    • Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
    • Look toward tomorrow.

    Of course this format can be used for a year by replacing ‘day’ and ‘tomorrow’ with ‘last year’ and ‘this year’.

  • A much more detailed version can be downloaded from here changing ‘day’ to ‘year’ again.

Taking time to go over the year can help God speak to you about aspects of your spiritual life. This is about deepening your relationship with God and with others, if you do it in a group. It can also help you look to the future. You might get a sense of something God is calling you to or  a gift he wants you to use. There might be a change that needs to be made or you might need to stay where you are for the moment. For our group, still in the process of working out what God is calling us to be, some of the things that come out of the Examen might be about that overall vision or your part in it. As the year goes on we will have a chance to share this together as a group. Personal Examens are an important part of this process.