Saturday, May 23, 2009

Book Review: What is Ignatian Spirituality? by Fr. David L. Fleming, SJ

A thing that I have come to notice about the books from Loyola Press, at least the books that I have received from them, is that they avoid trying to be too "heady". These books, then, seem to be written for those who are interested in the spiritual life but are not looking for something overly intellectual. Fr. Fleming's book certainly falls into this mode. In his introduction, he writes:

I try to answer the question 'What is Ignatian spirituality?' not by systematic analysis but by describing the ideas and attitudes that make this spirituality distinctive. Ignatian spirituality is not captured in a rule or set of practices or a certain method of praying or devotional observances. It is a spiritual 'way of proceeding' that offers a vision of life, an understanding of God, a reflective approach to living, a contemplative form of praying, a reverential attitude to our world, and an expectation fo finding God daily.
For those who are seeking to gain a greater understanding of Ignatian spirituality, I think Fr. Fleming's book provides some valuable insights into the Ignatian way of proceeding. When he is asking 'what is Ignatian spirituality?', I think he is also exploring what it means to be a Jesuit. Those who desire to understand Jesuits better can find a lot of good information here.

As I was reading this book, it struck me that it is impossible, at least for me, to get through this book in one sitting. It would be like eating your food all at once without really enjoying each bite. This happens to me a lot when I engage in spiritual reading. I feel like I need to digest each point, to allow the insights to sit and marinate for a while. Certainly, I feel like this is the case with Fr. Fleming's book. I could get a general sense of what Fr. Fleming is doing in this book in one sitting, since you could probably read this quickly in about an hour or two. But to do that, I think, would be missing the point of the book. He writes more for the heart than for the mind, a point he makes about the Ignatian way of proceeding--all that we do should be a response of the heart. I think someone who hopes to get the most out of the book can only do so by a prayerful reading of it, not of an academic reading of it.

Thus, over the next few days, I hope to prayerfully explore some of these points that he makes, so the upcoming posts are not a strict review of his book. Rather, it will be more an engagement with his book, since I think the question of Ignatian spirituality is a big one if you are interested in the question of what it means to be a Jesuit. You are welcome to join me as I explore a few of these insights.

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