Becky Eldredge, The Inner Chapel. Embracing the Promises of God. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2020.
By John Gillman
The Inner Chapel is both an account of the author’s close relationship with her beloved grandfather and a multifaceted reflection on Ignatian spirituality. For almost 20 years, Eldredge has served as a spiritual director and a retreat leader. She is a married Roman Catholic layperson who has lived much of her life in Baton Rouge. In this largely autobiographical narrative she writes about her relationship with her husband and her two children, but most of her attention is on her 18-month journey with her dying grandfather.
The book fulfills a promise she made to her grandfather to tell others about God’s love and that they are never alone. Part I consists of six chapters under the heading “The Inner Chapel,” and Part 2, “Embracing the Promises of God,” includes nine chapters. At the end of each chapter, Eldredge invites the reader to “go to the inner chapel,” that interior personal space where God dwells, where one’s relationship with Jesus is nourished, and where life in the Spirit is embraced. In these personal invitations, the author offers several practical recommendations such as creating a spiritual autobiography, utilizing Ignatian contemplation, creating rituals of rest, and discovering God’s unique call to each person. Following these she provides a list of Scripture passages under the rubric “Embracing the Promises of God.”
Throughout the book Eldredge intersperses vignettes of her interaction with directees, examples from ordinary life such as how to make crawfish étouffée (a Cajun dish she learned from her grandmother), and references to some personal challenges. Without elaborating she notes that some of her “greatest angst … comes from shifts in a family system.”
I found it curious that while her grandparents figure prominently in the narrative, the author is almost completely silent about her parents. Observing that “one of life’s greatest agonies is the untold story,” she notes in passing that she has endured “seasons of suffering while desperately longing for someone to understand what I was going through.” For her own reasons, Eldredge has chosen, aside from an occasional reference, to let her seasons of suffering remain part of her untold story, at least for her readers.
The colloquial style makes this narrative easy to read. For those unfamiliar with Ignatian spirituality, Eldredge’s reflections serve as a helpful introduction.
John Gillman, ACPE certified educator, is a lecturer in religious studies at San Diego State University and the Franciscan School of Theology.