Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet with a spiritual director? What sorts of thoughts and ideas might you share? What might you expect in the form of guidance about your life of prayer?
Have you ever wondered what people are talking about when they enthusiastically mention the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius? Those folks who tell you that "the Exercises changed my life" ~ we can be somewhat tedious, can't we? What's the big draw?
Or have you, perhaps, longed to have a conversation about your spiritual life with a friend or companion, but had no idea where to start? What counts as "spiritual?" Will your friend laugh at you? You know that you would fumble for the words with which to describe your experience of God, or prayer ~ or your lack of experience. How does one begin?
Margaret Blackie's book, Rooted in Love, answers these questions in a relaxed, friendly manner. To read her book is to settle into a deep and wide-ranging spiritual conversation with a companion who is simultaneously a "friend from down the block" and an experienced spiritual guide.
Mags is a long-time spiritual director in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, so her book is peppered with Ignatian concepts of prayer, presented in a down-to-earth way. And she concludes each chapter with a short set of exercises so that her readers might experiment with the concepts, language, and practices she introduces. Much as she might if she were your "real life" director, Mags sends you off at the end of each reading with questions and ideas to ponder and review in your own periods of silence with God.
Mags is also a woman who has engaged many of life's puzzles with a discerning mind and heart: questions of career and call, issues of relationship, and challenges of the inner life. She is not afraid to describe her own dilemmas, just as she might to a friend or spiritual director, and thus she models the kind of conversation many spiritual seekers long for.
When Mags, who blogs here, invited me to review her book, she also offered to answer a few questions. I immediately asked for her views on the following:
One of the first questions often asked by people seeking spiritual direction is "How can I establish some sort of rhythm or consistency in my prayer life? I mean well, but I constantly procrastinate and delay." How do you help people who hope to embark upon a deeper life of prayer get started?
I have three comments. I think most people procrastinate in prayer either because they are afraid of something or they are avoiding something. The first addresses the fear or avoidance - don't try and be anything other than you are; honesty in prayer is the most important thing. If you are afraid of something in particular bring it to God; likewise, if you are avoiding something, ask for the desire to deal with it.
The second piece of advice is more practical. If you have decided you want to pray for twenty minutes at a day, and you don't have twenty minutes - then do what you can. Praying for 5 or 10 minutes is better than not praying just because you can't spend the time you ideally wanted to.
Finally, if neither of the first two issues is a problem, it may be that the way that you are trying to pray isn't working for you. Try something else.
As you point out in your book, you encountered Ignatian spirituality at a young age. In the spiritual direction program in which I trained, there is an increasing number of young students -- men and women in their twenties and thirties. How do you think Ignatian spirituality speaks to young people in particular?
The Spiritual Exercises were designed for a person making a significant life choice (considering joining the Ignatius and his companions). The material on discernment and making decisions is so incredibly helpful to younger people. In your twenties and thirties you are in the midst of choosing career, life companion and what kind of life you are to lead. You also tend to be slightly less encumbered with responsibilities and obligations and therefore you have greater freedom. To have such tools when you are in the midst of making these choices is invaluable. Learning how to be discerning early sets you up better for whatever will come your way in life.
And finally, Mags, who is both a chemist and a spiritual director, gave an unexpected answer to my third question ~ but one which may encourage all who struggle with more than one vocation or call in life. My question was: In Ignatian spirituality, we often speak of "finding God in all things." In what "thing" have you found it most difficult to locate God, and how was that challenge resolved (if it was)?
Probably in chemistry! I wish I had a different answer to that! I can intellectually see God in chemistry, but there are times when I find it hard to encounter God through the daily minutiae of building an academic career. There is a lot of evidence which supports the choice I have made to balance chemistry and spirituality. Nonetheless, I think I continue to walk the path I do out of an act of faith, rather than felt confirmation. I guess when I stop and pay attention I recognise that I do feel called to this life, but at the same time it can sometimes feel like an awkward fit.
Enjoy the book and the blog tour!
(Margaret Blackie asked me to review her book, which I had already purchased. I have received no compensation for this post. If you'd like to read another review, take a look at Fran Szpylczyn's at There Will Be Bread.)
(And . . . I've started a new blog! So you'll also find this piece cross-posted there! Eventually.)