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James Martin's Book About Spirituality (BOOK REVIEW)

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) January 13, 2011: James Martin, a highly verbal young east-coast Jesuit who serves as the culture editor of the Jesuit-sponsored magazine AMERICA, has written an accessible 428-page book about one widely known approach to Christian spirituality, THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING: A SPIRITUALITY FOR REAL LIFE (HarperOne, 2010).


When I say that this book is accessible, I mean that the author bends over backwards to explain all kinds of points as clearly as he can. He assumes that his readers are Christians. But he does not assume that his readers know very much, which is why he bends over backwards to explain so many points.


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The title refers to Jesuits. Martin evidently thinks that the members of the Roman Catholic order known informally as the Jesuit order (known more formally as the Society of Jesus) would be better known by his targeted market than the name of the founder of that religious order would be. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) is the Latinized form of the Basque founder's name. In light of the founder's   name, the spiritual tradition that Jesuits carry forward is known not just as Jesuit spirituality but also as Ignatian spirituality. I myself prefer to use the term Ignatian spirituality.


Disclosure: Even though I am not a practicing Catholic, I was for a period of time a Jesuit seminarian. The 30-day retreat that I made following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of Ignatius of Loyola is one of the most memorable events in my life.

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Now, here's the question that I want to pose: If we were to set aside the nonsense about the historical Jesus being God and having a divine nature in addition to his human nature, could we open up Ignatian spirituality for non-Christians to use? Yes, I think we could.


The slogan of Ignatian spirituality is not "Finding Jesus in all things" but "Finding God in all things." So for the 85 percent of Americans who say they believe in God, Ignatian spirituality and Martin's book about it might be a resource to use in developing their own spiritual lives.


The starting point for entering into Ignatian spirituality is silence and solitude. But this does not mean going of and working by yourself in a solitary way somewhere, perhaps working in silence at a computer. Instead, it means eliminating all external distractions, including the busy-ness of work and other daily cares, for a time of personal contemplation and reflection on one's life at the present time. In this time of solitude, one is free to attend more carefully to one's life and thoughts and feelings.

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As Martin explains, the cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality is free choice. But free choice presupposes that we have reflected on our possible choices for action. The times of solitude are to help us reflect on possible choices in given circumstances in our lives. As a result of such careful reflection and decision making, our acts bespeak who we are.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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