PRAYER: Orientations — C. Spiritual Practices and Helps, by Jacqueline Syrup Bergan and S. Marie Schwan

From Birth: A Guide for Prayer


          Lord, teach us to pray. (Luke 11:1)

Prayer is our personal response to God’s presence.  We approach the Lord reverently with a listening heart.  God speaks first.  In prayer, we acknowledge the Divine presence and in gratitude respond to God in love.  The focus is always on God and on what God does.

The following suggestions are offered as ways of supporting and enabling attentiveness to God’s Word and our unique response.


          1.  Examen of Consciousness 

“Yahweh, you examine me and know me. ” (Psalm 139:1)

The Examen of consciousness is the instrument by which we discover how God has been present to us and how we have responded to that presence through the day.

Saint Ignatius believed this practice was so important that, in the event it was impossible to have a formal prayer period, he insisted that the Examen would sustain one’s vital link with God.

The examen of consciousness is not to be confused with an examination of conscience in which penitents are concerned with their failures.  It is, rather, an exploration of how God is present within the events, circumstances, feelings of our daily lives.

What the review is to the prayer period, the examen is to our daily life.  The daily discipline of an authentic practice of the examen effects the integrating balance which is essential for growth in relationship to God, to self, and to others.

The method reflects the “dynamic movement of personal love: what we always want to say to a person whom we truth love in the order in which we want to say it.. . .  Thank you. . . .  Help me. . . .  I love you. . . .  I’m sorry. . . .  Be with me.”  (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: A Handbook for Directors, by Marian Cowan and John C. Futrell)

Method:  The following prayer is a suggested approach to examen.  The written response can be incorporated into the prayer journal.

†   God, my creator, I am totally dependent on you.  Everything is a gift from you.  All is gift.  I give you thanks and praise for the gifts of this day.

†   Lord, I believe you work through and in time to reveal me to myself.  Please give me an increased awareness of how you are guiding and shaping my life, as well as a more sensitive awareness of the obstacles I put in your way.

†   You have been present in my life today.  Be near, now, as I reflect on these things:

        • your presence in the events of today;
        • your presence in the feelings I experienced today;
        • your call to me;
        • my response to you.

†   God, I ask your loving forgiveness and healing.  The particular event of this day that I most want healed is. . . .

†   Filled with hope and a firm belief in your love and power, I entrust myself to your care, and strongly affirm. . . . (Claim the gift you most desire, most need; believe that God desires to give you that gift.)

2.  Faith-Sharing 

“For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

In the creation of community, members must communicate intimately with each other about the core issues of their lives.  For the Christian, this is faith-sharing and is an extension of daily solitary prayer.

A faith-sharing group is not a discussion group, not a sensitivity session, nor a social gathering.  Members do not come together to share and receive intellectual or theological insights.  Nor is the purpose of faith-sharing the accomplishment of some predetermined task.

The purpose of faith-sharing is to listen and to be open to God, who continues to reveal himself in the church community represented in the small group which comes together in God’s name.  The fruit of faith-sharing is the “building up” of the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12)

The approach to faith-sharing is one of reading and reflecting together on the word of God.  Faith-sharing calls us to share with each other, out of our deepest center, what it means to be a follower of Christ in our world today.  To authentically enter into faith-sharing is to come to know and love each other in Christ whose Spirit is the bonding force of community.

An image that faith-sharing groups may find helpful is that of a pool into which pebbles are dropped.  The group gathers in a circle imaging themselves around a pool.  Like a pebble being gently dropped into the water, each one offers a reflection — his or her “word” from God.  In the shared silence, each offering is received.  As the water ripples in concentric circles toward the outer reaches of the pool, so too this word enlarges and embraces, in love, each member of the circle.

MethodA group of seven to ten members gathers at a prearranged time and place.

†   The leader calls the group to prayer and invites them to some moments of silent centering, during which they pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit.

†   The leader gathers their silent prayer in an opening prayer, spontaneous or prepared.

   One of the members reads a previously chosen scriptural passage on which participants have spent some time in solitary prayer.

†   A period of silence follows each reading of the Scripture.

†   The leader invites each one to share a word of phrase from the reading.

†   Another member rereads the passage; this is followed by a time of silence.

   The leader invites those who wish, to share simply how this passage personally addresses them, for example, by challenging, comforting, inviting.

   Again, the passage is read.

   Members are invited to offer their spontaneous prayer to the Lord.

   The leader draws the time of faith-sharing to closure with a prayer, a blessing, an Our Father, or a hymn.

   Before the group disbands, the passage for the following session is announced. 

3.  The Role of Imagination in Prayer 

Imagination is our power of memory and recall which makes it possible for us to enter into the experience of the past and to create the future.  Through images we are able to touch the center of who we are and to surface and give life and expression to the innermost levels of our being.

The use of images is important to our psycho-spiritual development.  Images simultaneously reveal multiple levels of meaning and are therefore symbolic of our deeper reality.

Through the structured use of active imagination, we release the hidden energy and potential for wholeness which is already present within us.

When we use active imagination in the context of prayer, and with an attitude of faith, we open ourselves to the power and mystery of God’s transforming presence within us.

Because Scripture is, for the most part, a collection of stories and rich in sensual imagery, the use of active imagination in praying Scripture is particularly enriching.

 Through imaging Scripture we go beyond the truth of history to discover the truth of the mystery of God’s creative Word in our lives.

4.  Coping with Distractions

Do not become overly concerned or discouraged by distractions during prayer.  Simply put them aside and return to your prayer material.  IF and when a distraction persists, it may be a call to attend prayerfully to the object of the distraction.  For example, an unresolved conflict may well continue to surface until it has been dealt with.

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