by Michael Barnes, SJ Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This book has some fascinating pictures. On the front inside cover is the depiction of Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation Cell 3, Convent of San Marco, Florence, Italy. One can only imagine how marvelous to see this beautiful painting every morning! The author, Michael Barnes SJ is a British Jesuit who taught for more than thirty years at HethropCollege in the University of London. During this time he was director of Westminster Interfaith and also ran the De Nobili Centre for Dialogue. This is the story of one Jesuit who seeks to respond to the mystery of a loving God through the lens of Ignatian Spirituality. Guided by the principle of ‘deep listening’ for the movements of the Spirit of God, wherever they may be felt, Barnes is convinced that Christian faith comes truly alive when it is communicated and brought into dialogue with what is ‘other’, different, even strange. The central conviction of Ignatian spirituality that God is to be found ‘in all things’ is the foundational principle that forms what he calls “a great movement of faith, hope and love in which the whole of humanity is caught up”
The author brings his expertise as a theologian and specialist in Asian religions together with his active engagement with people from other faith traditions in a reflection on his own personal experience, his ‘ongoing pilgrimage’. The twelve linked chapters form, a personal introduction, with a degree of autobiography and illustrative anecdote, to an interior dialogue between Christian faith and the challenging context of contemporary religious pluralism.
Barnes offers no more than a record of experience, held together by the central conviction of Ignatian spirituality that God is to be found ‘in all things’. Once that truth becomes rooted in the heart, as a foundational principle that grants entry into the many religious and cultural boundaries that crisscross our fascinating yet tortured world, everything begins to speak of the possibility of grace. That is not to deny that we live in the middle of many desolating examples of mendacity, corruption and horrendous violence, nor is sit to make a naïve wager on the power of peace-making, reconciliation and acts of heroic generosity to win some cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. Ignatian and Francis—and their Franciscan counterparts before them—were guided by a vision not of eschatological vindication but, more simply, of a world renewed in all its living and loving by the challenging yet ever-consoling world of Jesus, that the ‘Kingdom is very near’.
If there is one advantage of living and working on the border is between religious traditions, it is the immediacy of moments of insight and understanding. While years of study bring a learning that is gradual and incremental, the learning that takes place on the street, in other places of workshop or in fruitful conversation of all kinds is often powerful and even overwhelming. Fellow Jesuits and fellow Ignatians from all religious traditions form part of the deep structure of what comes next in the book. But their contribution cannot be easily separated from those of the many people of faith who have taught the author that an arbitrary limit cannot be put on the extent of God’s compassionate love for human beings. Ignatius taught his companions to read the world of their experience as a great dramatic scene in which God in Christ was involved, binging creation and redemption to a fullness, a great movement of faith, hope and love in which the whole of humanity is caught up. In this sense Love’s Mystery has no bounds. To say that God is at work in all things means precisely that.
This book brings together the two sides of his experience as academic teacher and pastoral worker- a consuming fascination with the multi-religious world of our contemporary culture and the conviction that Christian faith comes truly alive when it is communicated, brought into dialogue with what is ‘other’, different and even strange. Combining tradition with a degree of autobiography, this book crafts an interior dialogue between Christian faith and the challenging context of contemporary religious pluralism. What holds it together is the activity of ‘reading’: engaging with all manner of ‘texts’, from the privileged text of scripture to the more open-ended conversations between people of faith, discerning there the love for humankind and creation itself which the Spirit always inspires in those who seen to discern the signs of divine grace.