BUSY LIVES & RESTLESS SOULS: HOW PRAYER CAN HELP YOU FIND THE MISSING PEACE IN YOUR LIFE
By Becky Eldredge
Published by Loyola Press, 152 pages, $13.95
Anyone who has gone through spiritual direction or attended a religious retreat will quickly feel at home reading Busy Lives & Restless Souls. This is fitting; the book's author, Becky Eldredge, has spent more than 15 years in Catholic ministry, working as a retreat facilitator and spiritual director.
Busy Lives is her first book, and its purpose is straightforward: a warm, inviting promotion for the power that prayer can have in any life, regardless of how much — or little — time an individual might have.
"God is available to talk to us as we do laundry, change diapers, run carpool, shuffle kids to activities, oversee homework, and coordinate our families' calendars," she writes.
"Show up and spend time with God," she adds later. "That is the basis of this entire book, really — encouraging you to make time for God on a daily basis."
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She offers no shortage of ways to do so. Trained in the Ignatian tradition, Eldredge provides a crash course in the prayer practices used by or long associated with the Jesuits, including the Examen, the Spiritual Exercises, Lectio Divina, Ignatian contemplation, discernment of spirits, the Suscipe, and the colloquy ("What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?").
While Busy Lives is far from the first book to provide such an overview of Ignatian spirituality, Eldredge is especially qualified to make the case for why these prayer practices are especially suited to people with hectic schedules. Though obviously not a Jesuit herself (she refers to herself as "Jesuitte"), she is a wife and the mother of three children. If one of Ignatian spirituality's goals is to meet people in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life, Eldredge is an ideal spokesperson.
Like the retreats and spiritual direction sessions its author leads, Busy Lives is designed to be interactive. Each chapter ends with several questions urging readers to reflect on some of the themes drawn out in the preceding pages.
Naturally, Eldredge shares examples from her own life to highlight topics throughout the book. Some of these also might feel familiar to readers. A cradle Catholic, Eldredge eventually came to the realization that she needed to arrive at her own convictions after a religion teacher chastised her for simply accepting her parents' beliefs. Later in the book, she compares the process of going deeper in a relationship with God to the process of meeting, falling in love with and marrying her husband.
Some of the most moving parts of Busy Lives come from Eldredge's reflections on suffering. While she occasionally withholds some of the details surrounding her "treasured sorrows," she shares poignant stories about living in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina struck, losing close friends at a young age, and going through the various other issues of adult life — moving to a new home, a spouse's challenges finding work, and more.
She also shares beautiful reflections on motherhood. Eldredge completed the Spiritual Exercises shortly after one of her daughters was born, leading her to insights on Mary's experience raising Jesus. In the fourth chapter, she compares the Examen to helping a daughter sort through fallen puzzle pieces. Her response when others ask, "How do I know if I'm hearing God's voice or not?" is that she can pick one of her children's voices calling, "Mom!" in a room full of other children. This is the kind of intimacy with which God knows us, she explains.
Busy Lives is not targeted to any particular audience. In its tone and structure, however, it might best serve someone first trying to begin a life of prayer or return to one after many years away. It also might be especially useful to young adults who hope to develop a faith that is their own.
As Eldredge points out, though, all are called to a relationship with God.
"Everything is holy," she writes, "because our days hold a multitude of ways God can break in and point us back to God as we ponder, pray, and consider."
[Brian Harper is a communications specialist for the Midwest Jesuits and a Young Voices columnist for NCRonline.org]