Rooted in Love is here! You can buy both Kindle and paperback versions on Amazon (Click here: Rooted in Love)
Rooted in Love will shortly be released by The Way (Click here: Rooted in Love)
In South Africa all formats are available through The e Bookshelf (Click here: Rooted in Love)
You can listen to the introduction and the second chapter of
The main speaker of the Cape Town launch was Rev Canon Dr Sarah Rowland Jones. I am deeply grateful to her for her willingness to speak on my behalf!
The text of her talk is given below – it’ll give you a good idea of what the book is all about and why you might want to buy a copy: (If you want to use any of the text for any reason, please ensure that Sarah is given the appropriate credit)
Margaret Blackie – Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian spirituality into daily life
It is a very great honour, privilege and pleasure, to be invited to speak this evening.
This is a very timely book. The world today is finally, suddenly, wonderfully, waking up to the importance, the relevance, of Ignatian Spirituality.
This is all because of events of 13 March 2013, when, rather unexpectedly, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected Pope. Immediately, he grabbed the imagination of the world. First he came out onto the balcony above St Peter’s Square in far greater simplicity than his predecessors, wearing his own iron cross; and, even more surprising, began by asking others to pray for him and for his predecessor before he gave the traditional blessing, Urbi et Orbi – to the city and the world. Then he took the bus back with the other cardinals to where he was staying.
The next morning, after early prayers at the St Mary Major basilica, he returned to the hostel – the Domus Internationalis Paulus Sextus – to pick up his luggage and pay his bill. Press pictures show him leaning on the counter where I too leant on the counter to pay my bill in January last year after I’d stayed there with my husband, while attending an ecumenical meeting!
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires he was known for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to building bridges with people of all backgrounds, beliefs and faiths – to say nothing of living in a simple apartment, cooking his own meals, and taking the bus to work. He has continued in the same style, with his no-frills papacy.
A similar stance is reflected in the way he treats everyone as equals: as he sits on a simple chair, the same chair as others use at audiences; or washes the foot of a Muslim woman prisoner on Good Friday; or hugs friends among the cardinals; or lives in a Vatican guesthouse so he can share his meals with others. Clergy are not more special than the people they are called to serve.
We find it too in his teaching – often off the cuff and in Italian, rather than written pages of Latin. He tells us that we must follow Jesus in every aspect of life, and not be afraid to speak of what difference Jesus brings to our lives and to the world. The church must be genuine in humble service. Poverty and injustice are a breach of human rights. Good Catholics – good Christians – must ‘meddle in politics’ in order to serve the common good.
His teaching seems grounded in common sense and simplicity – and yet at the same time is remarkably profound, in how it cuts through the messy complexities of life and gets to the heart of the matter. He talks the talk and walks the walk. He took the name Francis, not after the Jesuit St Francis Xavier but after Francis of Assisi, known for embracing poverty and the poor.
Commentators don’t know how to pigeon-hole him – he is neither ‘Catholic’ nor ‘liberal’ in the way people have understood these terms.
But they know this: he is a Jesuit, and it is the Jesuit life, the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola, that shapes him and which, I would say, is what gives him the freedom to live with such profound integrity and authenticity.
To understand Ignatian Spirituality we should start with Ignatius himself: Ignatius of Loyola, born into Spanish nobility in 1491, found his life turned around when he was seriously wounded by a cannonball at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. During his long convalescence, his great desire for fame and honour as a knight gave way to a commitment to serve Jesus with equal fervour.
As he pursued this life, he reflected on how his own faith, and the faith of those around him, could be deepened and honed. The most tangible result of this is his writing of the Spiritual Exercises – a handbook for spiritual directors to help those who wish to deepen their walk of faith particularly through an intense retreat of 30 days. Its lessons, though, have far wider applicability for pursuing the Christian life in whatever circumstances people find themselves – through what has become known as Ignatian Spirituality.
If you want to know more about Ignatian Spirituality, Margaret Blackie, known to most of us as Mags, is your man, and this is the book.
Mags is a lifelong Catholic – though not without the usual adolescent questioning – although perhaps this just points to her propensity for honest wrestling, which is such a valuable part of the Christian journey. She is a research Chemist, whose life in academia was punctuated by 4 years at Loyola Hall – a Jesuit spirituality centre and retreat house in the north of England. Through this, Mags pursued Ignatian spirituality – Truly, Madly, Deeply.
Though actually, this means pursuing not the spirituality for its own sake – that would never work. It means pursuing God Truly, Madly, Deeply, in the recognition that however Truly, Madly, Deeply, we desire to pursue God, God desires to pursue us even more Truly, Madly and Deeply!
She became a trained Spiritual director, for retreats, and for people in daily life, and was invited to become part of the community of Loyola Hall.
Then, in 2006, she discovered, rather to her own surprise, a call to return to Southern Africa (she is a Zimbabwean, with all the joys and griefs that brings) and to the life of academic chemistry – which she now pursues at Stellenbosch University, while continuing to work in spiritual direction in parallel.
It is the sort of ‘salt of the earth’ universe of which I think Ignatius would approve – and I am sure Pope Francis would, with his recent condemnation of those who have ‘good manners and bad habits’, i.e. those who sit in their holy self-righteous huddles, saying the right thing, even arguing for the right thing, but who never step outside of their comfort zone, rolling up their sleeves, and getting stuck in to the life outside the cloister and the church.
For at the heart of Ignatian Spirituality is Ignatius’ belief that God is present throughout his creation, and wherever we are, we can encounter him, and his invitation to walk more closely in his love, and (the second theme, which always, inescapably, follows from the first) to share his love more fully with the world around us.
(Indeed, it is rather affirming to be reminded of this if one is sitting reading Mags’ book, as I was, in Heathrow Terminal 3 Departure Lounge, a little over 48 hours ago, with a dish of mixed nuts and a glass of Prosecco Italian bubbly in hand!)
Ignatius says ‘the goal of our life is to live with God for ever’ – and this is something that starts the moment we draw breath, not with our final breath. Further, he says – and those of you familiar with his teaching will recognise these words also from his ‘Principle and Foundation’ – the underlying concept on which he builds all else: ‘Everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.’ More than that, ‘Our only desire and our own choice should be this: I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.’
This is what Mags is about, this is what makes her tick – to desire to follow whatever choices are a response to God’s invitation to move in whatever direction means a deepening life with God. And this may as much be the life of an academic chemist as a full time member of a religious community – even if as a lay person.
This is why Ignatian spirituality is so powerful. It is not aimed primarily at clergy and professed religious. It is for everyone – and recognises that our true vocation in God can be as much to be a chemist, an engineer, a teacher, a doctor, a journalist, a parent, a spouse … the list is endless – as to be a priest, a sister, a monk.
Success for Christians – as Pope Francis rightly insists – is merely about our capacity to follow God faithfully.
Let me say a little about myself here. Mags and I met about 5 years ago. We are rather different – in personality at least, as those of you who know Mags will be more than aware. For those of you who don’t know Mags, let me say only this – that when I asked how long I should speak for, her answer was that the longer I spoke for, the less she would have to say, and this would be a good thing.
But we both have first degrees in science – I was a mathematician, before becoming a British Diplomat and then an Anglican priest, pursuing research in philosophy of religion. I was still a Diplomat when I first encountered Ignatian Spirituality just over 20 years ago, and was an ordinands when I followed the full Spiritual exercises.
The lesson I have learnt, and the lesson I see in Mag’s life, is that it really doesn’t matter who you are: whether your life is primarily within the church or in the big wide world, or whether you are a reflective introvert or an exuberant extrovert, Ignatian spirituality can help you grow in your knowledge and love of God.
And now I need to correct something I said earlier. I claimed that ‘if you want to know more about Ignatian Spirituality, Mags is your man’ but actually that was not very accurate (and not for the reason you might imagine).
Mags has very little interest in your knowing about Ignatian Spirituality. She’d far rather that you live by it – or at least, give it a go, and see if it works for you, in helping you see God more clearly, love him more dearly (through first of all receiving his love more fully) and follow him more nearly.
And this is what this book is intended to do. It draws on some 15 years of her engagement with Ignatian Spirituality; her vast experience of spiritual direction and of teaching spiritual directors (thank you, Mags); and it draws on the lessons of her own life. Mags writes that the authentic life requires honesty and courage – and you will find this here in double measure. For such a private person, Mags is remarkably generous in sharing the struggles of her own life – her own wrestling with herself and God – as lived examples of all the wisdom she teaches.
So then, let me turn in a little more detail to the book itself: Rooted in Love – Integrating Ignatian Spirituality into Daily Life. First of all, the foreword is by Margaret Silf, which just proves it is going to be wonderful!
Then, between Introduction and Epilogue, we have 13 chapters, written with great carefulness and clarity, their explanations illustrated with specific, often personal, examples. And we know that Mags is a skilled teacher, because strewn throughout the book you will find little blocks of exercises to follow. Mags knows we learn best if we put our reading into practice – though I have to admit that I haven’t done all my homework, so I’m planning to go back and read it all slowly, and digest it properly, and perhaps even use it in parish ministry when I move to Wales later in the year. But I can say I followed Mags’ other instruction, which was to write down all the insights that the book prompted – indeed, the margins are full of emphases and big ticks!
But though in one sense all this makes Rooted in Love an easy book to read, in fact, if you read it properly, you will find it full of daunting challenges. This is not a book for those who want the life of faith to be simple and straightforward, a matter of clear rights and wrongs, with one-size-fits-all rules to follow. No. This is a book for those who have grasped, or are wanting to dare to grasp, that life should be lived as an exciting adventure, into which we are invited by the God who creates each of us a unique and beloved individual with our own specific vocations to explore, uncover, and pursue – so that we might become more fully our flourishing, unique, true selves.
In pursuing this journey, with the God of unfathomable love inviting us to fathom as deeply as we dare, Mags takes us through a number of themes. First, we start by taking stock of where we are – because it is in our here and now that God addresses us. Then we explore who this God is, and how it is that we can indeed expect to find him ‘in all things’. She reflects on what it is to dare to live with desire – responding to how God plants and nurtures within us yearnings that will help draw us into greater experiencing of what it means to become our true selves. She writes of what it means to seek to live by grace, and ask for specific graces in specific circumstances. She considers discernment, decision-making, finding our longer term purpose in life (even if it is for a season, and then can change, as Mags herself has found), and the goal of holy indifference – where we acknowledge our motivations and our left-to-ourselves choices, but even so can still say to God ‘even more, I desire for myself what you desire for me, knowing that it is my best’. It can feel mad at first, but in time, writing God such blank cheques becomes remarkably freeing.
In all this, we find the book circling around to return to various aspects of the Christian life, inviting us to go deeper – as if we are peeling the layers off an onion. There is the challenge to face up to self-deception; and not to be precious about our ‘holiness’; and not to get so caught up in our inner journey that we neglect the call to follow Christ in a life of service in action. We are also encouraged to make our journey in the accountable companionship of a spiritual director or soul friend.
This is a book utterly rooted in the difficult realities of life. Later chapters address ‘When things are tough’ and ‘Dealing with hurts in personal relationships’. Often, circumstances are not as we’d like – perhaps we face issues of health or mortality; or are disappointed in our career expectations. We also all have to face up to the fact that, in various ways, we are broken and flawed, and so all our relationships will also be, to some degree, broken and flawed. As is often said, hurt people hurt people. In other words, we have to acknowledge that we are all sinners, and in need of God’s help.
And yet to recognise this is to find the source of great freedom and liberty, which are hallmarks of the grace-filled gospel of Jesus Christ. For this is not one of those self-help books that offer an impossibly idealistic way of living that just makes one’s heart sink as one reads, knowing that one will just fail from the word go. This is a book that addresses what it means to be ‘only human’ and reminds us that it is in our humanity that God loves us and meets us and desires to walk with us.
Mags says that the greatest gifts of Ignatian Spirituality lie in the teaching on discernment and decision making. I could hardly agree more. We live in a world which ostensibly offers us almost limitless choices, but which gives precious few tools that are any practical use in weighing these choices. We really need all the help we can get in cutting through the false priorities of contemporary living, and seeing what really matters.
Among those of whom Mags reminds you, Edith Piaf probably is not among the first to spring to mind. Yet, although she does not sing ‘Non, rien de rien – non, je ne regrette rien’ Mags tells us that she aspires to live a life without regrets – and invites us to consider walking the same path. This does not mean a life of shrugging off all that has happened, nor of being blasé about the consequences of our choices. Rather, it is about living with a diligence that says, for the most part, I tried my best to respond to God’s leading – and did so confident in the knowledge that if I got it wrong (as is often and inevitably the case), he would still work for the best, drawing me ever forward, in whatever circumstances unfolded.
So then, this book helps us discover God’s invitation to a life-long journey of adventure, in which we hone our skills in following our ‘inner compass’ and so grow in integrity and authenticity, and grow in discovering and becoming more fully our own true selves – both in our inner life, and in the challenging call to action and to service that comes with it.
To follow the path Ignatius put before us is hard work, demanding – but yet it is also very liberating. To live at peace with our God, ourselves, with others – what more could one want.
So let me end with the prayer that is at the culmination of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.
If you want to live this prayer more fully in your own life, then I recommend – BUY THIS BOOK!
© Sarah Rowland Jones
Cape Town, 19 September 2013