Changed Heart, Changed World
Changed Heart, Changed World: The Transforming Freedom of Friendship with God
by William A. Barry, SJ
Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2011
Reviewed by Margaret Blackie
William Barry, a prolific spiritual author, is a Jesuit priest steeped in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and writing out of the Ignatian tradition. His style is fluid, simple, and clear. The primary theme running through Changed Heart, Changed World is the importance of developing an adult friendship with God: “Friendship with God has an effect on this enormous, wounded world—one person at a time” (39).
This book really gets to the heart of the good news of Christianity. Barry cuts through many of the attitudes that have paralyzed the churches: “For too long in the history of Western Christian spirituality, repression of unwanted feelings, impulses, thoughts, and desires was taught as the preferred method towards spiritual growth. But God wants us to heal through and through. To allow God to do this, we must be willing to face our darkest and most troubling impulses in God’s healing presence” (30).
Changed Heart, Changed World emerges from a deep-rooted understanding that God is loving and compassionate. Predictably, parts of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius permeate the text; Barry uses these to underpin the development of his argument. Contemplation to attain love, the culmination of the Spiritual Exercises, appears in chapter 2, but the themes of gratitude and love that emerge from this contemplation are a superb foundation for the book.
“God’s love is not contingent on anything we are or do. Nor is God’s love utilitarian—that is, God does not love us to achieve some other purpose, for instance, to convert some other person or to achieve a goal in God’s scheme for the world” (7). Barry draws from his own experience. Because he is one of the great contributors to the field of spiritual directors in our time, it is particularly encouraging and humbling to read about his struggles. The personal illustrations create a much-needed link between the idealism of spirituality and the concrete reality of daily life. The tools and suggestions he gives for prayer and for attitudes to life are all accessible to the ordinary person. He cuts through much of the jargon and mystery that too often surround spirituality. “The process of paying attention to something besides your own concerns and worries gives God a chance to communicate. That’s what Ignatius meant by contemplation” (12).
This is one of the most refreshing spirituality books I have read in quite a while. It is earthy, real, and accessible, but at the same time it is profoundly challenging. I have enjoyed many of Barry’s offerings over the years, and this book stands out among them. Whether you are a beginning spiritual seeker or well established on the road, this book is worth reading.
Margaret (Mags) Blackie is on the faculty in the department of chemistry and polymer science at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She works as a spiritual director in her spare time and participates in the training of spiritual directors in Cape Town.