Margaret Eletta Guider, OSF, Spiritus Weston Jesuit School of Theology

February 23, 2021

This book came into my hands quite suddenly. It found me before I found it. No sooner had I agreed to do a review than its pages began to make an unexpected claim on my own consciousness and spiritual journey. Initially, I found it curious that a Franciscan would be asked to render an accounting of the book’s merits. Yet the more I entered into it, the more I was persuaded that the timeliness of the volume allows it to speak to a much broader audience than readers already familiar with the essential elements of Ignatian spirituality. Spiritual and social in its orientation, the book has a magnetic appeal that is both radical and global in nature. Invitational, compelling and profound in terms of its style, tone, and content, it is a book that can be read a paragraph at a time, a theme at a time, a section at a time, or in its totality during one mesmerized sitting. It is simultaneously a page-turner and a book of meditations to which a reader will return over and over again. Unlike those of us who venture into this Ignatian arena of consciousness from the outside, I suspect that those well-acquainted with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, along with his life and times, may bring to their reading of this volume a different set of questions, observations, and possibly reservations, regarding Brackley’s interpretations, applications, and perspectives. Yet regardless of one’s particular charism, spiritual background, social location, or orientation to life, Brackley’s narrative promises to engage the reader’s theological imagination and moral sensibilities. The personal stories that he uses to contextualize his points are not of the ponderous self-referential sort. Rather, they are moving reflections that draw the reader into the very heart of life’s many relational, economic, cultural, political, and spiritual. The book itself is divided into six sections and builds on the framework of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The first section, entitled ‘Getting Free,’ invites the reader to consider the conditions needed for cultivating a spirituality of solidarity. Four related topics are further developed under this heading, including becoming ‘free to love,’ the ‘reality of evil,’ the exigencies of ‘forgiveness,’ and the ‘reform of life.’ It concludes with a thought-provoking exploration of Ignatius’s Rules for Discernment. The second section, entitled ‘Something Worth Living For,’ addresses the subject of vocation. It examines the experience of ‘the call,’ the meaning and demands of ‘the Reign of God,’ and ‘the contemplation of Christ,’ and offers a challenging interpretation of Ignatius’s meditation on ‘the Two Standards.’ It considers the movements of ‘downward mobility,’ ‘humility’ and ‘solidarity’ as preconditions for the ‘expanding of one’s soul.’ The third section focuses on the ‘Acts of Discerning and Deciding.’ It takes up the question of how one lives ‘life in the Spirit.’ In offering a series of responses, it provides ‘more rules for discernment,’ analyzes ‘three ways of making decisions,’ and highlights the core elements of ‘seeking the way of truth and life.’ Section four examines the inter-relatedness of ‘Passion and Compassion’ through a series of moving reflections on the ‘grace of compassion,’ ‘the solidarity of God,’ and the ‘blessedness of the persecuted.’ The fifth section probes the mystery and significance of the Resurrection by contemplating the dynamics of ‘Resurrection and the Spirit’ in terms of the experiences of ‘consolation, action and liberation,’ and ‘learning to love like God.’ The Sixth and final section treats the topic of ‘Prayer’ by way of exposition, exhortation, observation, and a concluding personal anecdote. In addition to the main contents of the book that draw upon the Spiritual Exercises in provocative, challenging, and perhaps unconventional ways, readers will be drawn into Brackley’s project and its contemporary relevance by the ‘Foreword for Skeptics’ written by the book’s editor, Ellen Calmus. Also, those well-versed in Ignatian spirituality will find further matter for reflections and discussion in the two appendices dealing in greater detail with the elements of the Kingdom Meditation and the meaning of the Two Standards. Finally, the many references used by Brackley in the development of this important volume are in and of themselves worthy of note. Woven together like a fine tapestry, the insights conveyed in the footnotes merit the reader’s close attention and critical consideration. Focused on the creative, reconciling, and ever-inspiring love of the God of Life, Brackley challenges the idols of death, dehumanization and destruction at every turn. Throughout the book, he holds in tension the realities that characterize our troubled times.with all of their shadows and lights, ambiguities, and clarities, insecurities and certainties, vices and virtues, injustices and liberations, broken-winged hopes and bold dreams. Daring the reader to sort out what is essential and instructive in Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises from what is not, Brackley is forthright in anticipating the predictable criticisms of his work and respectful in his acknowledgement of the validity of his critics’ points when viewed from their perspectives. This posture is consistent with Brackley’s overall purpose inasmuch as the goal of this book is not to make his interpretation the last word, but simply an unforgettable word to bystanders—guilty or not—who have avoided, denied, or never recognized the need for a radical self-examination of their lives in the light of the indisputable facts of the global social crisis in which they find themselves and their world. Convinced that another world is possible, Brackley draws upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, along with their biblical and theological foundations, to advance a utopian vision of solidarity and community. Undeterred by the mystery of iniquity and its countless manifestations in the everyday lives of the powerless and privileged alike, Brackley appeals to the logic of Love with an apocalyptic sense of ultimacy that has characterized the author’s witness throughout his life. Calling attention to the paralyzing, oppressive, and deceptive dynamics of resentment, Brackley urges the reader to take account of the need for discernment, for interpreting rightly the movements of consolation and desolation, for acting with integrity in the endeavor to discover where one stands when coming face to face with the question: What is best for God’s purpose? For those who find this question burning in their hearts for the first time, this book will be an indispensable resource in their efforts to seek and find God—and themselves—in a world of crisis and confusion. For those first seared by this question long ago, whose knowing, loving and following Christ continues in the midst or aftermath of ‘dropping out, burning out or petering out,’ this book is required reading. To crack its binding is to take an incalculable risk of the sort that characterizes the companions of Jesus

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