by Rebekah Hanson
from Signs of the Times No. 68 - Jan 2018
The author is a US English professor and Catholic deacon, and he uses both of these aspects of his life to create a poetic reflection on his spiritual life.
The book is inspired by his practice of the Examen, a daily Ignatian spiritual prayer exercise. At the beginning and end of the book he gives brief summaries of what the Examen entails, its origin and influence on the book. His reflections may, therefore, be more fruitful for those who are already familiar with Ignatian spirituality. Nevertheless, it is a thought-provoking and moving read for those who seek spiritual insight from everyday life experiences.
In the preface, he describes the memories and moments that he shares in the book as ‘poetry, not prose’, and as ‘parables’ (p. xiv). It is important to keep this in mind so as to not lose track of the overall aim of the book, which is to help the reader,
remember the moments... However small they are, however fleeting, moments like this can lead us to God. (p. xiii)
Therefore, the book is not exactly a straightforward how-to guide for the spiritual life, as it comprises what, at times, seem like almost random bits of personal memories and reflections loosely held under different chapter titles. However, this structure challenges readers to reflect on and connect various moments in their own lives where they encountered something indescribable and strangely significant, however small or short-lived. In this way, the reader gets a glimpse into the author’s reflective process as these memories and reflections become almost prayer-like.
The book is divided into three parts and ten chapters. Part 1 is called ‘Trusting Joy’, made up of three chapters, with the focus of each chapter on light: ‘seeing’, ‘doubting’ and ‘following’. Part 2, called ‘Facing Darkness’, is made up of four chapters, each reflecting on what it means to give oneself to God through humble reflection on difficult life experiences, big and small. In Chapter 4, called ‘Dying to Ourselves’ he discusses the themes of darkness and light and connects them in this way,
It’s the darkness that shows us the light. It’s desolation that teaches us what joy really is’ (p. 47).
Part 3 is called ‘Seeing God in Everything’ and this section combines the themes of darkness and light which recalls moments with a mix of pain, wonder and joy. Throughout all these moments lie his hope in Christ and faith in God’s guidance, and this is what connects all the different snippets of memories, reflections, and feelings throughout the book.
Light When It Comes is a deceptively easy read filled with moving stories and small insights, and yet, it is spiritually challenging in different ways. While he doesn’t go into too much depth about the Examen or the benefits of Ignatian spirituality, the impact of these practices can be found in the way he seeks God’s presence throughout various encounters, feelings, and conversations. I found myself disagreeing with or questioning some of his conclusions and ideas. This led me to think further about personal conclusions or ideas derived from spiritual reflection on my own life experiences.