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By Eric A. Clayton

One of my priorities as a parent tasked with passing on the Catholic faith is to help my daughters expand their own religious imagination. Can they see themselves in the story? Can they dream big – and allow God to meet them in that space? Can they learn to ask the questions that matter?

It’s not always easy, though, to find children’s book that do this, that cultivate a religious imagination in a playful, accessible, engaging way.

And then I stumbled upon “Audacious Ignatius,” the first book by our guests today, brother and sister team, Paul Mitchell and Katie Broussard. Paul writes; Katie illustrates. And the result – at least in the first book on our friend, Ignatius – was delightful. My girls now have begun to develop a deep love and interest in this saint – and a curiosity about others.

So, I was pretty excited when I learned that Paul and Katie were at work on a new Ignatian book, “The Examen Book.”

Below, Paul and Katie answer a few questions about the process of developing their new book. And hear more from them on books, faith and parenting on this episode of “AMDG: A Jesuit Podcast!”

  1. Why this book? What was the inspiration?

Paul Mitchell: We loved the process of creating and sharing “Audacious Ignatius,” a way for parents and teachers to playfully introduce Ignatius’ life and spirituality. And the book ends: “For if, like our hero, you learn how to pray, / Plans to live with deep love will come right your way.” It made sense for us to create a book that introduces the Examen, a central prayer in Ignatian spirituality.

And introducing the Examen was a very different kind of challenge! We are not telling a story…we are creating a book that helps a grown-up gently hold a space, with a child, to invite the child to see their life as the story to focus on, the adventure where they encounter a God who is overjoyed to meet them.

The emphasis in the first part of the book is on experiencing the self as loved by God. This is, I think, the central part of our life-long Christian conversion, and something that is absolutely in reach for children developmentally.

Katie Broussard: This is the book we wanted to read with our own kids – we liked reflecting at the end of the day on what happened during the day or what we were thankful for, but I felt a desire for a little extra nudge to get into “where did we see God in our day?” We couldn’t find a children’s book about the Examen, so we were so excited to make one! It gave us the inspiration to think more about how to explain this to a child, and a framework for taking the plunge into praying the Examen as a family.

  1. What have you learned about parenting/raising kids to be faith-filled people through your own writing/illustrating?

KB: We knew a bit about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd before we started working on this book, but the idea of parents and kids praying the Examen together inspired us to read more about it as we worked. It’s based on the work of Sophia Cavaletti, who writes beautifully about the capacity for the divine that children have. They already have a relationship with God, and all of the instruction we do should honor this connection. This was really helpful for me in creating the illustrations for the book — my work became about tapping into an existing, loving relationship.

PM: I’d love to echo what Katie has said here. A friend who was an early reader of “Audacious Ignatius,” “Sorin Starts a School” and “The Examen Book” commended Cavaletti’s “The Religious Potential of the Child” to us — and my goodness what a book. Here is a bit that made a deep impression on me. It ends the first chapter called “God and the Child”:

“All that we have been able to observe over these years… leads us to consider the child as a ‘metaphysical’ being very attuned to the sensorial, perceivable world and, at the same time, moves with ease in the world of the transcendent. The young child delights in and is deeply satisfied by contact with God. ‘God and the child get along well together…’

“[S]ince the religious experience is fundamentally an expression of love, it corresponds in a special way to the child’s nature. We believe that the child, more than any other, has need of love because the child himself is rich in love. The child’s need to be loved depends not so much on a lack that requires filling, but on a richness that seeks something that corresponds to it.”

Is that not wild? It reiterates what has been my main takeaway as a parent that, in the presence of these little people, we are on holy ground. We have so much to learn about how to love from them.

  1. What do you hope parents take away from this book?

KB: My hope is that it gives busy parents a chance to pray during the day! For me, becoming a parent was a huge shift in my prayer life, as I suddenly had a lot less quiet and solitude! But my kids would quietly listen to a book and get absorbed in the illustrations, so I found that reading books about things that were meaningful to me could be a prayerful time, and lead to really lifegiving, energizing conversations. I drew on this experience in illustrating this book. My intention was to create engaging illustrations that would draw readers into a meaningful prayer experience, interspersed with minimal, open-ended scenes that could serve as a springboard for quiet introspection and prayer. The examen can be an opportunity for discernment, to step back and look for where God has been leading us each day.

PM: I still feel like such a young parent — our sons are 5 and 3 — so I feel fairly inadequate to offer advice. I will share, though, what I feel is a central challenge as I read the book… the need to hold two seemingly contradictory things together. The first is that our consistency in inviting our kids into a prayerful space is crucial. And, second, our job is to get out of the way and let them experience their own religious experience and potential, to not say too much and so put bounds on their ability to experience of the love of God.

This was a challenge we felt in creating “The Examen Book” as well — to teach the form of the prayer — but not be terribly prescriptive or didactic. The prayer is meant to help the pray-er see how God is active, and so should say just enough and then get out of the way

  1. What does raising kids teach you about Ignatian spirituality?

PM: One thing I have learned, which is so on topic it will sound scripted, is how important the Examen is for my life as a parent. I do pray the Examen every day and it allows the subtle to surface. Our memories typically grab onto the loud parts of the day, but the Examen allows appreciation of the subtle. It allows us to see to see patterns emerging and how we might respond to this marvelous responsibility of caring for young people.

We’ve likely run across the prayer “Patient Trust,” commending us to not skip through the uncomfortable “intermediate stages” of our lives and, for me, parenting can feel often like a really long intermediate stage! But the Examen helps me see the contours and richness of these transitions.

KB: There’s so much imagination in the ways that St. Ignatius tells us to pray — whether it’s the spiritual exercises, contemplating a scripture passage, or looking ahead to what tomorrow will be like. I think this requires me to tap into my curiosity and being a parent has helped me take delight in curiosity.

Learn more about Paul and Katie!

Paul cares full-time for his young sons and writes in the service of lay formation. He taught in Uganda, Chicago, Boston, and Egypt, and studied theology at the University of Notre Dame and the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Subscribe to his blog!

Katie is an award-winning illustrator of The Examen Book, Audacious Ignatius, Sorin Starts a School, and I’m a Saint in the Making. Keep up with her latest projects!