The Daily Examen/“5 at 5” Prayer

The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.

The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Society of Jesus was the requirement that Jesuits practise the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits and many other Christians practise to this day.

A busy mum of 6 children recently told us she always takes 5 minutes for herself during her hectic day, no matter how many people are looking for her attention!  She does this each day at 5 p.m. and refers affectionately to it as “5 at 5”.  Five minutes of prayer at 5 p.m. in the day. Ignatius told his companions that if all prayers during the course of the day were to be missed, the Examen was the only one that must never be missed. Such were the benefits that Ignatius found in this simple but profound prayer, even if that’s once (rather than twice) a day, for five minutes!  The Examen is a review of your day and has 5 parts to it.

This is a version of the five-step daily Examen that St. Ignatius practised:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. How did you respond/how did you feel? (Look at your emotions over the course of the day).
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray with it.
  5. Look towards tomorrow. 

Looking back over our day for about 5/10 minutes, helps us to get in touch with where God was, and where God is leading us.  St Ignatius describes this as “my eyes were opened a little” as he slowly began to see how God loved him and where he was being guided in concrete ways during the day.  This is what we are also invited to do as we review our day. When we see how we are loved by God and can experience it, then everything changes. Ignatius believed this short practice of prayer was a gift from God. Can I see where God was present in the events of my day?

Step 1 : Become aware of God’s presence with you now, and in the last few hours:

As when praying with Sacred Space, I try to become aware of God’s presence – “I remind myself that in these moments, God is gazing on me with deep and unconditional love and holding me in being. I pause and think of this.” I also look back over the day to see where God was present to me, and I to God.

Step 2 : Review your day with gratitude:

Looking back over the course of the day, what am I grateful for?  (I try to be concrete about the things I am thankful for – maybe my family, my job, good health, a chat with a friend, happy memories, a walk in nature, the beauty of creation, etc.) Can I see where God was present in all this?  Can I see the gifts God has given me this day? Even if the day was really difficult, is there something I can be thankful for?

Step 3 : How did you respond to the moments of your day/how did you feel?:

Was I able to notice God’s promptings during the moments of the day I have just recalled?  Did I respond to people/situations in a good way or in a way that was not so good?  How were my emotions? Did my heart feel warm and full or was it discouraged with little energy?  Did God feel close or far away during my day? Did my responses help to build the relationships in my life (both human and divine)? If things didn’t go too well today, I remember how I am loved and held by God in all my brokenness and vulnerability. As I ask for forgiveness and healing, and do my best to forgive others, I am showered with love and grace and the strength to move forward.

Step 4 : Choose one feature from the day and pray with it:

Was there one encounter/situation/person that was particularly positive or challenging for me today?  I bring this time to God now and talk openly and freely about it and how it was for me.  I trust that God is interested in this and offers love, peace and healing to me.

Step 5: Look towards tomorrow:

As I come to the end of my prayer for today, I look ahead to tomorrow and invite God to be with me in all the day will bring. Maybe there is an area I want to improve in, that was highlighted in my prayer today. Or maybe there is something I am anxious about. Whether there is something particular that I have planned – a meeting, appointment, trip or whether it is just another ordinary day, I ask God to be with me in it. Our God is a God of relationship.  What’s important to us, is important to God. As in the words spoken to Jeremiah (31:3 NRSVue) “ I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” I know God will be with me no matter what life throws at me, today or any day to come. Amen!