Making a 30-day retreat may seem like a daunting prospect at the best of times; doing so whilst continuing to live your everyday life seems impossible. Where do you start? When and how do you pray? What do you pray about? Fortunately things have got simpler for those of us who are not religious experts and need some help. Having Time to Change at hand is like having your very own retreat director guiding you each step of the way. Michael Campbell-Johnston (a Jesuit widely known as CJ) is thoroughly familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, and presents them in an accessible manner. Wisely, he does not presume anything of the reader, and begins on Day 1 with the question, ‘Why a retreat?’. The style is conversational (the book was initially written to be distributed in audio format), and the author is keen to point out that the book itself is not the retreat: it is simply to help each participant in their daily prayer.
Generations of Christians have benefited from the Spiritual Exercises, and Campbell-Johnston emphasises that these are not just for the devout. St. Ignatius himself described them as ‘a means for the overcoming of self and the ordering of one’s life on the basis of a decision made in freedom from any ill-ordered attachments’. Ignatius’s secretary, Jerome Nadal, on being asked for whom the Exercises were suited, answered: ‘For Catholics, for Protestants and for pagans’. The Exercises, even as CJ presents them, are challenging; not because they are difficult as such, but because they require a ‘right disposition’. They are not a quick-fix magical formula, but exercises, tools to help those who use them. It is important to note that each day builds on the exercises which preceded it — there would be little value in choosing one day at random to get profound spiritual and personal results!
CJ recommends setting aside half an hour or so each day for the duration of the Exercises, and notes that the retreat is not being directed by himself, or by some other person, but rather by God – a God who knows your name, knows you through and through. As well as looking at the practicalities of making the retreat, CJ highlights the importance of setting aside extra time each day to reflect on what is happening – there is space at the end of each day in the book to jot down a few personal notes. The Exercises invite the person making the retreat to use their imagination to visualise and enter biblical scenes; helpfully, those who do not have a bible to hand are provided with the relevant passages of scripture for each day.
So there we have it — a programme of spiritual and personal renewal that can fit in your pocket or bag, and accompany you for each of the 30 days. And just in case you imagine that you’re off the hook at the end of the month’s Exercises, the final day focuses on how to keep the spirit of prayer going through the rest of your life; a time to change indeed!
The reviewer, Paul Fletcher SJ, will be joining the Jesuit community at Loyola Hall Spirituality Centre, Rainhill in September.
This book has also be published by DLT as an ebook and can be obtained either from iTunes (iTunesStore/AppStore/iBooks) or be downloaded to Amazon Kindle. It has also been published in the USA by Ligouri Publications with the title In the Midst of Noise.