Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Small Book Packs Big Spiritual Punch

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Reviewer | Published January 31, 2008

MYSTERIES AND STATIONS IN THE MANNER OF IGNATIUS; by Pavel Chichikov; Kaufmann Publishing, 2005; 41 pp; hardback; $10.95.

Have you ever been praying the rosary and your mind started wandering? Or have you ever walked the Stations of the Cross at church and, much to your horror, found yourself daydreaming?

Welcome to the club.

Fortunately there is a book that will help jump-start these devotions, especially during Lent, a season when Catholics try to walk more closely with Christ.

“Mysteries and Stations in the Manner of Ignatius” is a small book, measuring 6 by 3½ inches, but it packs a huge spiritual punch.

In the forward, Pavel Chichikov, a Washington, D.C.-based Catholic poet and photographer, expresses his hope that his poems will “freely enter your heart and speak to your inmost being.”

His hope was fulfilled for this reviewer because Chichikov has a rare gift for reflecting on well-known scenes from the Gospels with such stunning power that you will feel you are right there.

Unfortunately, many contemporary poets use such baffling and convoluted images that many people cringe at the mere mention of reading poems. But take heart: Chichikov uses language that is exquisite but also refreshingly accessible.

For example, writing about Christ’s birth in the stable, the poet aptly describes a mouse hidden there as a “gray-suited fellow.”

And when Christ is crucified, the nails were “sharpened in the factories of hell.”

Chichikov has modeled his 35 short poems on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. These are very powerful meditative tools that invite people to envision themselves in scenes from the Gospel, thus becoming better attuned to God’s messages.

The poet’s stunning imagination breathes new life into messages imbedded in the rosary. In a poem on the Visitation, for example, he gives readers a jolt by describing the scene through the eyes of the archangel Gabriel.

Writing about the Nativity, he has Joseph speak tender, husbandly words to Mary, as they enter the stable:

Dearest, settle here, I’ll turn away—
Dusk outside is frosty and I hear
Golden singing in the eastern sky
As if the stars themselves had gathered near.

Later, when Mary and Joseph lose their boy on a journey, the poem captures Mary’s panicky reaction and her intense emotions as she describes their son as “Our only Child, our darling, heaven’s love.”

In the poems about the Stations of the Cross, the poet gives us a profoundly moving sense of what Jesus saw, heard and said on that terrible road to Golgotha.

When Jesus meets his blessed mother, for example, his words to her are tearful and desperate: “Come, my dearest Mother, see me here … Abandonment is worse than any fear.”

And then, in a moment that evokes an image of people sitting at the bedsides of the dying, Christ depicts her as an angel, sent to bring him solace.

In the fifth station, as Simon of Cyrene is watching Jesus struggle with the cross, he utters a sorrowful and heart-rending protest: “Why kill a man before he’s crucified?”

And then, in a flash, Simon realizes the deeper, terrible implications of what he is seeing: “Every wound and punishment is mine.”

This is a jewel of a book that will help readers see old devotions through fresh eyes. It is a real testimony to the ways that God can speak through a poet’s imagination.

And although this is a perfect fit for Lent, it is the kind of book you may find yourself returning to all year long, any time you are seeking a closer walk with Christ.

Murray is a regular contributor to The Georgia Bulletin and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the author of three books. She will have a new book published this spring with Ignatius Press.