Ignatian Spirituality: A to Z by Jim Manney, Messenger, 204pp, £12.95
I am not entirely convinced that “if you want a metaphor for Ignatian spirituality, basketball is a good one”, and some of Jim Manney’s entries (“Jesuit Jokes” and such) seem a little tangential. But I was rather charmed by this punchy introduction to one of the most distinctive and influential expressions of the Christian spiritual tradition.
Manney explores most of the central themes and aspirations of Ignatian spirituality and peppers his survey with accounts of important figures and events in the society’s history. He quite rightly focuses on the Ignatian concept of discernment. If the Christian wants to pursue the best course of action, then he does well to look inwards: consolation (the sense of faith, hope and love increasing) competes with desolation (inner turmoil, a darkening of the soul). Examining these feelings and movements is not a bad springboard for any spiritual quest.
The goal of indifference also helps the cause. “No Ignatian word,” Manney writes, “causes more consternation” – but we should not read it as an invitation to apathy. Not caring too much about whether you are ill or healthy, poor or rich, is all about detachment: distancing oneself from cravings and concerns that might limit your horizons. Though this, of course, is often a medicine more easily dispensed than swallowed.
All of this may make Ignatian spirituality sound rather removed from the workaday world but, as Manney demonstrates, this tradition is, in fact, rooted in the examination of events that occur on any given Tuesday or Saturday. That’s the only sensible place to start and it reflects the Ignatian balance between accepting frailty and embracing the daunting but optimistic task of glorifying God.
Manney observes that “the great pitfall of writing about spirituality is a tendency to heaviness and abstraction”. He certainly avoids that mistake and, while sometimes a little too informal for his own good, he has produced the volume that he longed for when he began his own studies: “a good little book where I can look up this stuff”.