James Martin’s book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything has been on my bookshelf for the past week. It’s a popular seclection in our parish library, and I find much to recommend it. Four-hundred pages is a daunting length if your object is to read a book cover to cover. Fortunately Fr Martin is a superb writer, easily able to share and communicate enthusiasm for the subject matter. Which, quite simply, is applying Jesuit principles to (almost) everything in life.
I can see this book on the shelf of a person willing to take it a chapter or so at a time. I’m reading through it cover to cover, however, for a few reasons. First, I like Jim Martin as a writer. And I get ideas from good writers. Second, since it is a much-read tome, I want to be conversant in it generally. Third, I wasn’t expecting to find it spiritually helpful, since it seems to be aimed at people from seekers to believers on the threshhold of a deeper spiritual life. So it’s also been a cure for personal arrogance, and something of a corrective on a previous correction I made about forty-five years ago.
Up to about fourth grade, I did not challenge myself as a reader. I spent most of my allowance on books. And I usually bought books on subjects I already knew about and usually at my own grade level. For science, it was a few grade levels below my working knowledge. But I found a certain comfort in going with what I knew. I used books to confirm my working knowledge, not necessarily to expand it.
But in fourth grade, something changed. When I and some of my peers finished our classwork, the teacher gave us a pass to go to the school library. And at first, I borrowed books that confirmed my knowledge. But that got old quick. So I turned to the shelves where the middle schoolers read–the books without pictures. The books with text for two-hundred or more pages.
So it was new ground, and it was the start of reading way past my horizons. Which I still like to do today.
So I found Jim Martin’s book old ground in many ways: his discussion on discernment, contemplative prayer, retreats were interesting for his own experiences. In some aspects, it was like going back to old ground–just like I did before the fourth grade. But how he brings the Jesuit lens into (almost) everything: this was new to me. The extent of my exposure to the Jesuits has been limited to two eight-day Ignatian retreats, from which I don’t think I absorbed anything particularly Jesuitical.
The one thing that I found most helpful was Fr Martin’s approach to the daily examen. Back in the 90′s my spiritual director suggested I practice it, and I don’t ever think I got a good handle on it. But after reading Fr Martin’s approach, this will be the one aspect of the spiritual life I think I can delve into. More on that in another post, I think.
I told my wife it’s a good thing the Jesuits didn’t have a Jim Martin in the 80′s, because the book almost inspires me to go off and join them. The one kernel of Jesuit spirituality that I’ve been mulling over this past week: finding God in all things. The principle isn’t likely original to the Jesuits. But from how Fr Martin takes it and runs with it, they probably refined the notion to a degree up-to-now unheard-of.
Did I mention the tome runs four-hundred pages? For a guide to (almost) everything, that seems short. Some critics have said the book is too long and needed a tighter edit. Maybe they’re right, if they’re looking for a guidebook. The subtitle of the volume is “A Spirituality for Real Life,” and I think one could easily drop into any chapter, and gain significant food-for-thought for one’s life. Fr Martin weaves in personal experience, Jesuit saints, and Ignatian spiritual principles with great ease.
Consider this a strong recommendation–and I haven’t even finished it yet.