Author James Martin is right that his book covers (almost) everything–God, prayer, friendship, spirituality, sexuality, obedience, simplicity, acceptance, suffering, decision-making, work/vocation, and much more. The book is aptly subtitled “a spirituality for real life,” and quickly engaged me with its personal warmth, humour, clarity, and practical approach.
Take for example Martin’s introduction to Jesuit spirituality:
“One joke has a Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit celebrating Mass together when the lights suddenly go out in the church. The Franciscan praises the chance to live more simply. The Dominican gives a learned homily on how God brings light to the world. The Jesuit goes to the basement to fix the fuses.” (page 2)
Martin draws on many other jokes, stories, and personal experiences to explain Jesuit spirituality to his readers, who may be “spiritual, religious, spiritual but not religious, and everything in between.” I wanted to read his book because I was already familiar with Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, and wanted to learn more, but you don’t have to know anything about Ignatian spirituality or the Catholic church to appreciate this book.
For me, these were the two most valuable take-aways:
(1) the role of personal desire in discernment – Instead of dismissing our desires as selfish, Ignatian spirituality understands that “desire is a key way that God speaks to us” (page 58). Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:46-52) is also a question for us–not in a superficial way like “oh Lord, won’t you buy me a mercedes-benz,” but to identify the deep desires that shape us and call us to be all that God wants us to be.
So when my heart sinks when I’m asked to take on a particular task, I don’t have to ignore my feelings or dismiss them as foolish or selfish. And I don’t have to be a slave to my feelings either. Instead, in the way of Ignatius, I can bring them into my discernment. What deep desires are being revealed by my feelings? What do I need to name and pay attention to? God speaks to us in Scripture, in our prayer life, in community, and also through our deep desires.
(2) Martin writes, “From the first days of his Order, Ignatius encouraged Jesuits to share these insights not only with other priests, brothers, and sisters, but also with laymen and laywomen. ‘Ignatian spirituality’ was intended for the widest possible audience of believers and seekers” (pages 1-2). In keeping with this intent, Martin’s writing is inviting and accessible for a general audience, and his book makes me wonder how I can write and speak for” the widest possible audience” too. I don’t imagine that my next book will be a New York Times bestseller like his, but I too hope to be faith-filled, practical, personal, clear, inviting. After all, isn’t that what the gospel is all about?