The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ


(Almost) everything I know about the Jesuits comes from James Martin, and the more I read this book, the more I realized that I actually knew very little about the Jesuits. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything is both an introduction to the Jesuit way of life and an explanation of how those ideals can be useful to everyone. It discusses topics such as simplicity, chastity, friendship, obedience, thinking through our view of God, and prayer, just to name a few. The topics are handled with the humor and insight that I expect when reading one of Father Martin’s books, but there are times when it is, admittedly, a little bit dry. I also think that it’s not an ideal library book. Rather than being read straight through, it would probably be more useful as a book that one dipped into from time to time when one was specifically pondering something such as prayer. I know that I didn’t get as much out of the prayer chapters as I would have liked, just because I didn’t feel prepared to tackle an issue such as prayer.

With that said, I do want to share some of his thoughts that I found useful. I struggle a lot with feeling that God’s priorities are with others and that he gets around to me if he has the time. So I especially appreciated this passage on our images of God:

But my favorite image is one from the Islamic tradition, which depicts God as seeking us more than we seek God. It is a hadith qudsi, which Muslim scholars translate as a divine saying revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad. “And if [my servant] draws nearer to me by a handsbreadth, I draw nearer to him by an armslength; and if he draws nearer to me by an armslength, I draw nearer to him by a fathom; and if he comes to me walking, I come to him running.”

And this more humorous take:

God, an elderly Jesuit once suggested to me, is something like an old carpenter in a small village in Vermont. If you ask the townspeople where to turn for carpentry work or repairs, they will say, “There’s only one person to call. He does excellent work. He’s careful, he’s precise, he’s conscientious, he’s creative, he makes sure that everything fits, and he tailors his work exactly to fit your needs. There’s just one problem: he takes forever!”

I also appreciated the chapter on friendship and his list of tips for healthy friendships. I feel sometimes that I expect too much or am neglectful of relationships, so these tips were something I wanted to make note of: be honest, be open to challenge, wish the good of the other, know when to maintain a discreet silence, be welcoming, offer the freedom to change, laugh together, and help one another.

The main idea that I got from this book is that there is, truly, a possibility that we can change. I have been facing some difficult decisions and Father Martin’s thoughts on the decision-making process gave me the hope that I could make the right choice, which was about more than just choosing between two options. It also required me to think through the ways that I am living that are not in line with what I believe and whether there is anything that can be done about that. In the end, a big part of the process was about choosing to be a better sort of person. I was especially thankful for Father Martin’s thoughts and honesty on that topic.

I don’t buy a whole lot of books myself, but I would recommend this one for purchase. It has great insight on what it means to live a contemplative life. That’s a difficult task, both to focus your life on Jesus and to go about your work, but these are thoughtful and practical ideas on how it can be done.

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