Aronis, Alexander Basile. 2003. Developing intimacy with God : an eight-week prayer guide based on Ignatius’ “Spiritual exercises”. 1st ed. Makati City, Philippines: Union Church of Manila. (book review)
The book has developed out of the author’s dissertation about Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” as a model for spiritual direction 20 years before writing the book. During this time the author refined his understanding and teaching about ‘Devotional Prayer’ by serving as a spiritual director for many people.
The book includes prayer exercises for every day of the eight-week period, teaching and using different types of prayer and skills necessary to reach the goal:
“increase your love for Christ, broaden your self-understanding, connect you with vital spiritual principles, intensify your desire to become more like Jesus, and strengthen your commitment to serve him by serving others.” (1)
It can be used by individuals or by groups. Ideally an individual working through the book could have a mentor or spiritual director for feedback, but the book is written in a way that it can be used as the only spiritual guide.
The author defines ‘Devotional Prayer’ as the objective to develop “intimate knowledge of Christ that I might be with him, become like him, and live for him.” This theme of “with – like – for” him helps to keep the perspective. The threefold perspective is reflected in nearly every exercise.
The book is divided into five parts:
Part I – seeing yourself as God sees you (week 1)
Part II – the life and ministry of Christ (week 2-6)
Part III – the suffering of Christ (week 7)
Part IV – the resurrection of Christ (week 8 )
Every week starts with some introductory teaching about different prayer styles and related topics, which are then practiced during the exercises of the week. Each daily exercise focuses on a biblical passage using different ways of reflecting on it.
For example, in one week the author explains the different types of prayer, such as preparatory prayer, meditative reading, imaginative contemplation, heart prayer, prayer of petition, prayer of adoration, prayer of rest and infused prayer. In another week he introduces the reader to four types of insight – principle insight, attachment insight, interior insight and detachment insight. Another time the author expands on themes such as the “Four Degrees of Humility,” why we experience desolation, or how to rest in the Lord. Every week finishes with experiences from “Friends on the Journey” which can help answer certain questions or responds to problems many people have.
Listing these concepts may sound very theoretical and overwhelming, and it can be difficult to remember the different terms. However, since they are introduced gradually and practiced for one week before other new concepts are presented, one is able to grow into them and absorb them into one’s personal practice. Not every style is for everybody but practicing all the styles for a time helps to discover new approaches to prayer and find out which ones are most beneficial for oneself. The goal is not theoretical knowledge but real intimacy with God so as to reach the objective:
“be with him, become like him, and live for him.”
The book has been a real blessing to me and I recommend it highly. I believe that every individual working through it will grow in their relationship with Christ, even though the effects will be different for each person.
In closing, I want to mention and underline one aspect that I found especially interesting:
When reading the Bible or listening to a sermon most insights fall into four categories – principle insights (general principle, fundamental truth), attachment insights (something that inspires me to love God more), interior insights (increases self-understanding), and detachment insights (things that we need to let go of, that hinder our devotion to God). We need all of these types of insights, but it is the Attachment Insights that we need most because they motivate us to become more like Christ. Many of us, especially pastors and teachers tend to focus on Principle Insights but spiritual principles will not lead to increased delight in or intimacy with the Lord during prayer, and therefore not have the same transformational effect as an Attachment Insight. The reality of Christ’s love and presence shines best through people who know how to cherish Attachment Insights.
Does this surprise me? No, not really but until now I had not made this connection. It is nothing new that rules and principles rarely lead to transformation but relational modeling and healthy attachment can do that. Therefore we are more likely to grow in our relationship with God and be transformed into his image when we let our hearts be attracted to the person and work of Jesus than when we just focus on general principles. In practical terms, this means if a text triggers different types of insights in us, and we sense no special guidance by the Spirit to focus on one of them, it is best to focus on an Attachment Insight if you want to become more like Christ.