Note from QG: When I skimmed through this book after receiving it from the publisher, I realized that I did not have much background in Catholic and Ignatian spirituality. Fortunately my friend Robin Craig has much experience with this and agreed to be a guest reviewer for me. Many thanks, Robin! I know my readers will really appreciate your fine review of this book.
Gary Jansen's Exercising Your Soul is a humorous and helpful read for anyone who wants to explore a life of prayer.
Sympathetic to the struggles we all face in developing an honest and disciplined prayer life, Jansen offers candid and wry anecdotes detailing some of his own challenges. And, recognizing how difficult it is for many of us to figure out how to make a start, he provides numerous illustrations drawn from popular culture -- movies, television, and everyday encounters -- to demonstrate how easily we can make use of the ordinary events of our lives in order to discover the God who is present in all things.
Although Jansen writes from a Roman Catholic perspective, with many of his insights based upon the 16th century Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, most of what he suggests offers prayer potential to anyone of Christian faith. Many of his very short chapters give helpful introductions to various prayer forms -- historical background, explanations of the how and why, and brief but easy-to-follow instructions. If you've been curious about lectio divina, or contemplative prayer, or imaginative prayer, he offers lots of practical ideas for for developing a new practice or for revitalizing one that's stalled.
Protestants who are accustomed to focusing primarily on Scripture in their devotional life may find the chapters on praying the parables particularly helpful. Interestingly, Jansen uses (perhaps unwittingly) a famous metaphor of John Calvin's. Calvin urges us to understand Scripture as the "spectacles" which God gives us to see and understand God's creation in a way that out brokenness precludes; Jansen offers us prayer as another lens through which we may see God's activity in our lives .
The final section of the book addresses the Stations of the Cross, a Catholic form of devotion. Jansen presents two versions: the traditional one, developed in the Middle Ages, which incorporates moments of Jesus' journey toward the cross as depicted in legend as well as Scripture, and a newer version promulgated in 1991 by Pope John Paul II, based solely upon events related in the Gospels. The latter may be more acceptable to those Protestants who are distracted or troubled by stories and customs that have emerged from tradition rather than from the Bible itself. As always, Jansen provides detailed but not overwhelming instructions for those wading into new waters with respect to this form of meditation.
As Jansen says in his Introduction, we often think of prayer as :"asking for what I want" rather than as an experience of God's grace. This book would, I think, be helpful as a guide to either an individual or a small group desiring to explore forms of prayer or seeking to deepen the experience of prayer as grace received as well as desire pursued.
GIVEAWAY: The publisher has offered a copy of Exercising Your Soul to one of my readers. Please leave a comment if you would like to enter the drawing.