The Way of Ignatius:
a prayer journey through Lent
Author Gemma Simmonds
Publisher SPCK £9.99
Those who appreciated Gemma Simmonds’ article in the last issue of Transforming Ministry will be delighted with this little book. If the article is a fine appetiser, the book, although slim, is a substantial meal for all who are serious about building up their prayer life.
As the title indicates, at the heart of the book is the work St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuits and the master of Spiritual Exercises. As Gemma points out in her introductory chapter, the actual text of Spiritual Exercises, even in modern translation, can appear rather dull, ‘like reading a car manual’. The value comes of course from its practical application and from books like this one which make the exercises meaningful for modern lives, bringing profound Ignatian insights into regular, every day prayer.
The book has nine of chapters and readers following the discipline of Lent may want to tackle just one or two of these each week, absorbing slowly. Alternatively, read the whole book quickly at the start of Lent and return at intervals to revisit its details. The early chapters are about self-discovery and human identity; the later ones delve more systematically into the Spiritual Exercises and their particular links with scripture, culminating in the Passion narratives of Holy Week. I was strongly moved by the book’s penultimate chapter, ‘Surveying the wonderous cross’, especially the concept of feeling deep sorrow and shame at Jesus’ pain and profound suffering. It recalled for me some of the writings of Julian of Norwich.
The book will be of value throughout the year, and not just Lent. I particularly liked the way that the author supports her analysis of Ignatian spirituality with a wide range of literary allusions – for example, poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins and T S Eliot, classic theology from Augustine of Hippo, Hildegarde of Bingen and Thomas Merton. In other contexts, all these cross references could become a little oppressive, but Gemma wears her scholarship lightly and has such an easy style of writing that the allusions weave naturally into the text and help to illuminate our minds. Poetry and prayer are of course natural companions in our journey to grow closer to God.
In conclusion, this is a lovely book which will enlighten you, make you more confident in prayer and prepare you for the joy of Easter.
Reviewed by ALICE BURDETT
Editor’s note: Gemma Simmonds’ article, ‘Going Deeper into Prayer, appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Transforming Ministry and drew favourable comments and reactions. We therefore decided to add this review of her 2018 book, which builds substantially on the article, to our list of recommended books for Lent and Easter 2023.
Lenten Spirituality, Prayer