For the Atheist, the Agnostic, and the Believer – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist. A Very Worthwhile New Work on Spirituality:

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.

James Martin, S.J. (2010)

With nearly 20,000 members worldwide and a few hundred thousand in the past almost five-hundred years with high schools and colleges on almost every continent, the Jesuits know a thing or two about spirituality. And James Martin has distilled, summarized and updated the lessons of five hundred years so well that when I hit the lottery (There’s The Power of Positive Thinking for you.) I’ll start buying the work by the truck load for distribution to friends, patients and anyone who will accept a copy. In the interest of “full disclosure,” I paid full price for my copy at Barnes & Noble.

Composed between 1522 and 1524, the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, are the core of religious life for the largest Roman Catholic order of priests in the world, formally known as the Society of Jesus (thus, the S.J. after members’ names or, as Martin notes, occasionally known as “Stupid Jerks”).

Martin makes it clear that The Exercises have become a critical element in the “spiritual paths” of millions lay Catholics and non-Catholics, self-professed atheists and agnostics, and individuals following a wide range of other religious practices and traditions. Martin does not refer to “spirituality” – often perceived as static or tradition bound; he writes of a wide range of “spiritual paths”; I prefer “spiritual journeys.” Martin’s work is rich in illustrations of effective approaches to the spiritual path or journey; he often calls on the examples of his fellow Jesuits – living and dead. (Since the Exercises are critical to the day-to-day lives of Jesuits and, collectively, they probably constitute the largest single collection of religious martyrs outside the Holocaust, it is probable that they have something especially important to say.)

While more and more Americans are moving away from established churches and call themselves “spiritual rather than religious,” many lack the skills and tools essential to the development of a healthy and soul-enriching spirituality. Martin offers meaningful tools and guides the reader through the development of skills – although he is fast to emphasize that developing skills takes time and practice.

For readers struggling with addictions in all its forms (or who love and/or work with addicts), Martin’s work is especially important. Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, enjoyed a long-term friendship with non-alcoholic Jesuit Father Ed Rowling. In part, the friendship was based on the mutual recognition of the ways in which the Twelve Steps reflect critical elements of Ignatian/Jesuit spirituality.

I’ll continue to buy my lottery tickets because you can’t win if you don’t play and God knows I deserve to win. When I do, I’m headed to Barnes & Noble.

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