Roger HAIGHT. Christian Spirituality for Seekers: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012. Pp. 280. $25 pp. ISBN 978-1-57075-987-1. Reviewed by Nathan R. KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618
This is a book for those seeking a spirituality. The spirituality offered is that of Jesus of Nazareth. The means of encountering this proffered spirituality is the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola translated into a contemporary philosophical/theological language. The translator is one of our more sensitive and creative theologians: Roger Haight.
The origins of the book provide an insight into its audience and tone. It began as part of the spiritual formation program at Union Theological. For eight weeks thirty-five students were introduced to the Spiritual Exercises. Half the time was spent on an introduction to the Spiritual Exercises and half the time was spent on the Exercises themselves as adapted to contemporary life and worldview. This book is a replica of this initial approach. It is divided into Part I composed of four chapters dealing with: How Ignatius came to write the Exercises; the Exercises themselves and their effect upon people; the internal logic of the Exercises as causative of such an effect; and the challenge of translating a 16th century document into 21st century world. Part Two, “Reflections to Accompany the Spiritual Exercises,” is the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises entitled: Anthropology, Jesus of Nazareth and His Ministry, The Suffering and Death of Jesus, and Jesus Risen and His Mission.” Each of these Weeks is usually composed of a scripture reading along with Haight’s reflections on the reading which are intended to awaken the imagination of a contemporary reader so she or he may become more aware of his or her identity and freely commit to those necessary actions for a better individual and communal life.
The author suggests that there are many different ways to read the book. It may be read as an introduction to Christian spirituality, as an introduction to the Christian way of life, as a place to engage in open-ended dialogue with the reader through the use of one’s imagination engaging with the text, and lastly as an interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises. The reader is usually understood to be someone with a university education.
One illustration from Week One gives you an idea of his approach. He offers a selection from Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Quest for the Living God for a reflection on the world’s evolution, another from Genesis for thinking about creation, and psalm 104 for considering God’s providence. These are the readings upon which he provides his reflections. In his reflections on Providence he asks the question: Should we pray? His answer is an unqualified “yes.” But the word “yes,” which would be the same both in the 16th (Ignatius Loyola) and the 21st century (Roger Haight) comes from and embraces two different worlds in an effort to clarify how a follower of Jesus would go about praying today.
In the 16th century the world was ordered in a hierarchical manner with a King doing the ordering and providing the stability resultant from such order. If I needed something and got up the courage to ask the king (usually through an intermediary) he could cause it to happen. The creation scene of Genesis reflects such an ordering, as does Psalm 104. How something happens, if I may add my own view, is through coercive power: a hand shapes the pottery and a verbal command brings light and darkness into being. Will not the king of heaven answer the plea of his servants? Everything in the 16th century culture says he will. People around me says he does. Pray? Of course, yes.
This 16th century scene is incomprehensible in the developed world of the 21st century. Here the world is developmental, random and unordered. Humanity depends on its own creative powers to order the physical world. The human ability of concentrated conscious reflection on that world – to be able to bring what is outside, abstract it, especially mathematically, and use those abstractions to rebuild that world according to human wishes – has enabled more humans to live longer and in more comfort than any king. Is God alive? Yes. But not the medieval God reminiscent of the wizard of Oz but instead the all loving, all powerful, all just God who grounds our very being; the transcendent ground who is ever present in every breath we breathe and every action we freely take; that energizing, elicitive, power whom we freely bring into our consciousness that results in our discovering the necessary energies to change our world. Pray? Of course, yes. This petitionary prayer from the depths of our being uncovers our trust in our creative abilities to confront present suffering and evil. God? Like the warm hand of those who sit with the dying, God reaches through pain and suffering, to elicit, bring from our depths the trust and love necessary to take the next step, to grow, to advance into this random and unordered world and bring to it the necessary technique and stimulating energies to not only survive but to grow into a mature human. Not necessarily the goal of a medieval king but surely the goal of every contemporary parent who has faced the suffering of her or his children. And certainly too the response of the parent of us all: God.
Translations are always difficult. Roger Haight has provided us with an important attempt. We need more.