Prayer Adventure Week One: Have you tried Ignatian Spirituality?

It feels like every time I admit that I struggle with prayer in front of a Catholic, I get the same response.

‘Have you tried Ignatian spirituality? You should look into the Daily Examen.’

No, of course I haven’t. I’m Lutheran. Also, I hate praying, I don’t exactly want to do a thing designed to make prayer take a long time.

For those who like me thought it was spelled examine, here’s the basics of the Daily Examen.

It’s a form of prayer developed by St Ignatius of Loyola to be practised by Jesuits as part of their daily prayers. It’s used by a variety of people from various denominations as a form of reflective prayer and mindfulness, usually at the end of the day. There are five steps.

  1. Pray for understanding of the days’ events
  2. Review the days’ events, focusing on the gifts you received, and thank God for them
  3. Review the days’ events again, focusing on the feelings you experienced
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray about it
  5. Think about tomorrow’s plans and pray about whatever feelings arise from them

Initial Thoughts

As someone who generally tries to avoid self-reflection because I am terrified of what I might see, this sounds like it’s going to be a special form of torture. Especially since several parts of this require just ‘letting the Spirit guide you’. If left undirected, my brain tends to either settle into a difficult-to-break loop of anxieties, or wander off onto to a completely unrelated topic, like knitting patterns or shopping lists or the vast fictional universes my brain makes for my own amusement because being alive is very unpleasant and I don’t always have a book handy.

I am not looking forward to this.

Day One

It is 11:23 pm, and I have just done the Daily Examen for the first time. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be, although I did spend most of today mildly dreading it. Some initial observations:

  • My mind wanders quite a lot—I kept getting distracted, skipping steps and having to go back, or not finishing one thing before going on to the next. This could just be a product of never having done this before, or evidence of the fact that I don’t like focusing on things, especially negative things, for too long.
  • It didn’t really feel like prayer until the end; I don’t know if it just took me a while to settle in or if it was something else.
  • Praying as an autistic person is really hard because everything is so LOUD and DISTRACTING. Even though I have noise cancelling headphones on, I kept being bothered by the sound of my boyfriend hanging up his laundry in the next room. Even though my clothes are pretty comfortable, the minute I stopped having anything to distract me, the label on my jumper became supremely annoying. It makes me wonder how much of my quest to constantly distract myself is because of sensory bothers I’m trying to ignore.
  • The instructions I was using had a lot of phrasing like ‘pray from your heart’ and ‘let the Spirit guide you’, which I was sort of unsure about. What does that mean? How am I supposed to know if something is the Spirit or if it’s my brain seeking any stimulus to distract from the repetitive strain injury the amount of knitting I do has caused in my wrist?
  • Part of the instructions I looked at said that ‘gratitude is the foundation of our whole relationship with God.’ I don’t think that’s true. I think the foundation of my relationship with God is grace, and a shared desire for justice. I think God and I have similar goals and also God doesn’t mind my screw-ups and loves me anyway, which is lovely. But I’m not here because I’m just so grateful for God making snowdrops and mint tea, both of which I am thankful for.

Day Two

  • I think I’m getting the hang of this. I didn’t skip around with the steps so much or get as distracted, so I think that might have been a result of being unsure the first time.
  • It wasn’t incredibly profound, but it was relaxing. It doesn’t exactly feel like ‘prayer’, but it feels prayer-adjacent.
  • I think part of the reason I was afraid of praying is because I was worried I’d do it wrong and then God wouldn’t answer. I’m starting to think that what I do and what God does are not really correlated.
  • I followed the suggestion from God Loves the Autistic Mind and did some stimming while praying and that definitely helped me to focus and relax! Highly recommend stimming for anyone who finds it helpful. Also, not trying to force ‘typical’ prayer postures on yourself, and allowing yourself to move around if that is what is comfortable for you.

Day Three

  • I had a headache going in tonight, so I was grouchy and not confident in my ability to focus. However, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. My mind wandered a bit but I tried to let it be instead of getting mad at myself.
  •  I’ve also been surprised that when it comes to choosing something from the day to pray on, twice in a row the thing that’s stood out to me has been a thing that makes me really happy. Clearly I need to embrace joy, laughter, and time with friends more, and I need to spend more time outside!

Day Four

  • It feels good. It feels like therapy, but like the kind of therapy where your therapist just lets you talk about things until you figure it out for yourself. It feels like me sorting things out while God sort of chills in the corner and occasionally pats me on the head or gently makes a suggestion. This is very different from my previous experiences with prayer and with God, and it’s been empowering!

Day Five

  • Today was a very big day for me and I fell asleep halfway through praying. Woke up the next morning with my contact lenses still in. Do not recommend.

Day Six

  • Same thing again. Oops. I think I need to sleep more or pray slightly earlier.

Day Seven

  • I enjoyed this overall, but I did start to get bored by the end of the week. It does definitely feel like hanging out with your pal God, which is cool, but not always what I’m looking for.
  • While thinking through the day’s events is helpful and good, it does sometimes lead me to a) Getting distracted or b) Getting stuck in a thought loop of replaying a memory of something awkward or embarrassing I said or did, but I think I could work on that.
  • All in all, I think I could definitely do this sometimes but maybe not every day.


I think the Examen was a relatively positive experience. Reviewing the events of the day definitely helped me to reflect on my emotions in a way that was positive for me and helped me sleep better. (I have pretty much constant nightmares, and I didn’t have them this week, except for on the days I fell asleep halfway through praying.) However, I did struggle a bit with the structure: I’m impatient by nature and having to slow down and move through all the steps deliberately was frustrating by the end of the week.

It didn’t really feel like ‘connecting with God’, which is how I’ve heard lots of people describe prayer. It felt like me doing my own work while God sort of did other stuff and occasionally walked by to say ‘keep up the good work, kid,’ or ‘have you considered this?’, like an encouraging boss. While everyone likes to have an encouraging boss, I’m not sure that that’s what I want my relationship with God to be like.

I was also generally unsure about the whole Spirit guidance thing. I am really hesitant to attribute ‘messages’ or ‘guidance’ to God, because I have a massive distrust of my own mind. I know I don’t perceive things the way other people do, which makes it hard to trust whether something is ‘real’. When you can see/hear/smell/taste/feel things other people can’t, it’s hard to know if you’re ‘just sensitive’ (because you’re autistic) or actually hallucinating because your brain can no longer handle the strain of being alive. It doesn’t help that neurotypical people often accidentally gaslight you about this because the stimulus is imperceptible to them. If anyone has any ideas for dealing with that, especially in relation to God, I’d love to hear them.

Examen Ratings

Tangible connection with God: 4/10

Made me want to cry: 1/10


How Can I Pray? - Daily Examen -

Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards through Your Day -