Thirty Days is a journal of the author's spiritual retreat in New England. The retreat was based on a series of exercises developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, which guide retreatants through a series of meditations, prayers, and scripture readings over the course of 30 days.
What I appreciate about writings such as this is the sense of serious and disciplined spirituality. Of course, Catholicism has no monopoly on this. Books such as Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline excel at examining these activities from a Protestant perspective. But Catholics, at least historically, seem generally more inclined towards meditation and asceticism.
Another thing Catholicism has retained is an appreciation for the beauty of liturgy. Quiet common prayers, simple ceremonies, the sublime beauty of broken bread and flickering candles against white linen. Really, the concept of the sacramental was Christian before it was Catholic.
A lot of the book, especially the second half, consists largely of Mariani's paraphrase of Biblical passages, as he meditates on the story of Redemption and retells it, mostly for himself. For some reason, I find this type of writing annoying. If I wanted to read Biblical narrative, I would prefer to just read the Biblical account itself. When narrative is plucked from scripture and dropped with token modifications into another work, it starts to feel like filler.
Mariani's skill as a writer shows clearly in his descriptive passages, which are vivid, concrete, and sensitive. In a roundabout way, these sections provide the primary keyhole into Mariani's experience, allowing the reader to identify with the joys and agonies of his spiritual journey.
"Early this afternoon, clouds began rolling off the ocean, bringing with them the wind again, whipping up the ocean. Except for the houses, the seascape here could be Genesis all over again, the varying modulations of waves rolling in, no two breaking in exactly the same way. How little after all one gets down on paper, the infinite possibilities lost as one goes after first one thought and then another, trying to get it right. Two or three seagulls are soaring in the dying light. And now, suddenly, hundreds of them, a swarm: charred paper blowing in the wind, drifting to the left toward Niles Pond, fishing for something." (95)
I appreciated the book as an honest spiritual diary and a reminder of the value of meditation and silence. Still, I was left with a strange emptiness - probably because I know too much about Catholicism. Erroneous traditions are always distracting. However, I too need forgiveness, and comfort, and direction, just like Mariani. In that respect we are the same.
"Ignatius knew - like every great spiritual visionary - that we suffer from a skewed, self-centered vision of things. Now it's time to try and put things back in order for myself. But that means understanding my own radical disorder, and then trying to align my will with God's. The funny thing is that others could spot my ludicrous failings in a heartbeat. It's only me who thinks everything I think and do should be up for an Oscar." (18)