369 of 371 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2010
If you are looking for a companion to take along on your spiritual journey, you couldn't pick a better one than Fr. James Martin, S.J. His new book is a marvel. It is clear and concise about all those troubling questions you always wanted to ask about God and finding God. It offers a map (thoughtfully provided by St. Ignatius of Loyola and built on by Fr. James) for seeing God in your life and putting into practice this wisdom. This includes simplifying your life, confronting the nature of suffering, how Ignatian spirituality helps with making decisions, how to become the person you were created to be, and more. I especially liked the part on role of desire--our hearts' deepest longings--and how they bring us closer to God. Add in Fr. James's flashes of incisive humor as well as various accounts from his personal journey, and you have a fine book.
If I had one word to apply to this book (I considered "inspiring," "educating," "enlightening," and "transforming") it would be clarity. We are in great need of a clear thinker as we ponder together the nature of our humanity and who we are called to be while alive on this earth.
304 of 307 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2010
Religious, and specifically Christian, books can be a challenging lot. On the one hand there are plenty of great theological texts to read (Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Rahner, Barth, etc), but suffice it to say they are not the type of book you curl up with at the end of the day. On the other hand, there are too many "Christian-lite" books (I'll be nice and not name names) which touch on Christian themes, but lack the depth to really challenge the faithful.
With his rather bold title, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, James Martin, SJ looks like he would fall in the latter category. But happily, what we find here is a treatment of the Christian faith (through a Jesuit lens) which is not difficult to digest, but will challenge the reader to reexamine their stance toward faith. This is not just wordplay when I say "stance toward faith." Martin honestly and respectfully engages readers who may be atheists or agnostics, as well as any Christian still examining their faith. He does note that much of what he offers from his Jesuit life could be adopted by non-Christians. But give Martin credit for not being embarrassed of his faith and making a strong case for Christianity.
Martin acknowledges his own wordplay when he addresses his title. "It's not a guide to understanding everything about everything (thus the Almost). Rather, it's a guide to discovering how God can be found in every dimension of your life." The essence of the book is that every aspect of your life is spiritual -- faith is not just concerned with your thoughts on God, but what you say in those emails to a coworker. This is the first of four definitions that comes from Jesuit spirituality, namely, that everything in your life is important. The second idea is "contemplative in action," in which Martin outlines how a contemplative life translates into an active life. This theme plays a major role throughout the book as Martin explores how those of us who are not Jesuits can still actively incorporate spirituality into our lives. Third, not only is everything important, but God can be found everywhere. This carries the theological phrase of incarnational spirituality, but the idea is simple. Finally, many readers may be surprised to hear that people who pledge obedience see their spiritual life as one of freedom and detachment from distracting influences as opposed to a set of rules to follow.
Martin spends a great deal of time looking at the role of prayer in our lives. Again he is not afraid to challenge, as he does with the conventional excuse of "busyness," when it comes to why we find prayer challenging. One of Martin's strengths is that he understands the challenges of the working world. He came to his own faith decisions after a, ahem, active collegiate experience and after having a successful business career. He knows what many people deal with daily, and although not the head of a family, he understands the stresses the life of a parent has to contend with in addition to finding prayer time. But he points out that all relationships need nurturing, and our relationship with God is no different.
He offers several options, but his focus on "The Examen" is the most enlightening. This Jesuit prayer is central to the Jesuit way of life. Created by the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius Loyola (and Jesuit spirituality is often called Ignatian spirituality), this prayer takes a person through five steps at the end of the day. The prayer focuses on the course of the day. In Martin's version (and we learn throughout that Jesuits are a pretty flexible lot on faith issues) we start with gratitude for what went well, and then review all actions of the day. When we recall events we are sorry for we have reached the third step, which leads naturally to seeking forgiveness, step four. Finally, we seek God's grace for the coming day.
Simple as it sounds, and it is simple, the prayer reinforces that idea of all aspects of your life are important to God. All our actions should reflect our faith, and when we fail, we should seek to remedy our wrongs. Regardless of one's faith inclination, a thorough review of the day and an accounting for one's actions is bound to create opportunities to move forward.
Martin's explanations of the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty are enlightening in not only understanding what those vows mean, but what they have to do with the rest of us. No, he is not promoting worldwide chastity in the normal sense, but he does argue that loving chastely lets those even in sexual relationships realize there are many ways to express love. In a sex-obsessed culture, this rather obvious line of thinking is desperately needed.
This is how Martin works throughout the book. He explains how Jesuit's think and why, and then looks to tie it in with everyday life for the non-Jesuits of the world. While it sounds simple, it is challenging in both content and translation to life. If you just want an easy "feel good" book or "10 steps to live like a Jesuit," look elsewhere. If you want to think about faith and how it underlies your life, this is the place to start. But not to worry, Martin does all this with a sense of humor. He knows when some thinking sounds funny, and he points it out. He loves to tell Jesuit jokes, almost always at the expense of Jesuits, and the book is filled with real-life stories to illustrate his points. How often do you get to read a priest talk about being overwhelmed by sexual obsession just weeks before ordination? Martin does, and he spares himself little in the telling of tales. But his honesty and humor make all this thinking that more fun. And after all, if we cannot enjoy our faith, we must be missing something.
Martin also keeps a friendly, informative Facebook page where you can read about his other comments on life.
61 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2010
The "Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything" is the third book I've read by Fr. Martin. His writing is very down to earth and interjected with his own personal experiences throughout. Fr. Martin takes the reader on a journey through Jesuit history that entertains and enlightens. The main subject matter of the book encourages readers to discover their own spirituality via the guidelines established by St Ignatius Loyola nearly 500 years ago. However I would describe Fr Martin's read with one word, "personal". The topics covered in the book seem as though they are directed specifically at me. Feelings of unfulfillment, my unrelenting drive for success, and a search for direction in my life are all things that seem to plaque me as I approach the midlife mark. Fr Martin seems to address all of these feelings and gives some really good advise on how to work through some of these difficult feelings. Fr. Martin is a Catholic priest and I would never dream of saying that the book isn't about building a personal relationship with God, but the book really helps the reader discover themselves. It's as much a self-help book as it is a religious subject book. I can honestly say that some of the guidelines established by the founding Jesuits some 500 years ago as described and explained by Fr. Martin have helped me more to discover the person that I am supposed to be than anything else I have ever tried. Whether you're religious or not, this book has so much to offer a reader struggling to overcome the anxiety of living in today's chaotic world and leading you down the path to self-discovery.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2010
The "(almost) everything" in this title refers to the way St. Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuit tradtion approaches the spiritual life. Everything becomes a means to know, experience and understand God and ourselves in relation to God. Father Martin makes few presumptions about his readers' experience and background. He is very basic, explaining and defining terms, and giving personal examples with his characteristic wit. No one will feel left out, while some may find his elementary approach a bit tidious at times. But, there are gems of wisdom and renewal for even the most experienced reader of spiritual material. This is written for everyone interested in the mystery of knowing God.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2010
The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything is a rewarding reading experience. It gives the average person insight and a better understanding of what being a christian is all about. Father Martin has a unique writing style that I could relate to, very clear and precise with a touch of humor. I can remember going to Catholic school back in the 1950's, the eternal guilt trip. Reading The Jesuit Guide relieved me of this guilt by making me realize that as a human being, we are not perfect, nor does God expect us to be perfect. I think that in todays world, it is good to reflect on the meaning of life, this book helped me do that.