Too many books?

Dear friends,

In my last post I said I felt a bit overwhelmed when starting the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Part of this was because of the number of books I had collected about it. I have two clergy friends who are very into Ignatian spirituality, and each of them gave me 2 or 3 of their favorite books. Then, at my first meeting with my spiritual director, she gave me about 10 more!

Why so many books? Because St. Ignatius wrote his exercises in the 1500’s, and because he was a knight, they are written in a very courtly and chivalristic style. All of this chivalry sometimes tends to fall like a lead balloon on modern ears. For example, we’re not really into pledging loyalty to our feudal overlord anymore, so that image of St. Ignatius doesn’t work so well to make his point about commitment to Christ). Thus, many people have updated the Spiritual Exercises for today. Many, many people. Lots of books. Lots of options. The first thing I had to do was to figure out which book I was going to use as a guide and which not to use.

Of course you need to read the original text, that’s a given. The one my spiritual director recommended is the Ganss translation (St. Ignatius of course wrote in Spanish), but I also really like the Fleming translation because it has a literal translation on one page and a contemporary wording on the facing page.

My friends recommended two versions I really like. The “Take and Receive” series by some Roman Catholic nuns is very well done. It’s split into five books, Love, Forgiveness, Birth, Surrender, and Freedom. If you want a taste of what the Exercises are like, this is a great series to do on your own. Another similar version in one book is Moment by Moment by Carol Ann Smith.

However, my spiritual director recommended a newer version: The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien. It has a nice balance between following the traditional exercises and being thoroughly contemporary in theology and language. So that’s the one I’m working with.

In addition, I’ve found two books really helpful in explaining the theology of the exercises. Stretched for Greater Glory by Aschenbrenner, and The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed by Dykeman et al. This latter book is a feminist reading of the Exercises, which I think is pretty crucial for making them relevant for today. A lot of times when I get bogged down on something, like Ignatius’ ideas about sin (this is a spirituality that has been shaped for 500 years by a male order of celibate monks, after all — even though the Jesuits are super cool) I find that Dykeman sets in it a context I can wrap my head around.

Lastly, everyone I talked to said “you have to have this little book!” which is not the Exercises at all, but a small book of poems and prayers to accompany them. It’s really precious and I pray with it every day: Hearts on Fire. Two people have showed me their copies, which are so well used they are completely tattered and falling apart.

So that’s some of what I’ve been reading these past few weeks!




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