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Posted May 20, 2014

Book: Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity
Author: Ron Rolheiser
Image. New York. 2014. Pp. 344

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Beloved author Ronald Rolheiser continues his search for an accessible and penetrating Christian spirituality in this highly anticipated follow-up to the contemporary classic The Holy Longing. With is trademark, acuity, wit, and thoughtfulness, Rolheiser shows how identifying and embracing discipleship will lead to new heights of spiritual awareness and maturity. In Sacred Fire, Rolheiser takes us on a journey through the dark night of the senses and of the spirit. Here we experience the gamut of human life, from pleasure and fervor to disillusionment and boredom. However, as Rolheiser explains, when we embrace the struggle and yearning to know God, we can also experience a profound re-understanding in our daily lives.

"But where do we go from there?" Rolheiser writes. "What lies beyond the essentials? Where do we go once some of the basic questions in our lives have been answered, at least sufficiently so that our focus can shift away from ourselves to others? Where do we go once the basic questions in our lives are no longer the restless questions of youthful insecurity and loneliness?" 'Who am I?' "Who loves me?" "Where do we go once the basic questions in life become: 'How can I give my life away more purely and more meaningfully?"

As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke suggests, "Live the questions now." In Sacred Fire, Rolheiser's deeply affecting prose urges us on in pursuit of the most holy of all passions --- a deep and lasting intimacy with God.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Several years ago, I was preaching in a church on a Sunday. The gospel that day was the famous story of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary, and Martha's infamous complaint that she was left to do the work alone, in this case the business of preparing a meal, while Mary sat idly at the feet of Jesus. Jesus' reply to Martha's complaint suggests not just that Mary had chosen more wisely than Martha, but that Martha's busyness itself is something Martha should critically examine. In preaching my homily I talked about the difference between being and doing and emphasized the importance of taking our sense of worth from who we are rather than from what we do. I made the point that if we take our sense of self-worth from what we do, our successes and achievements, this eventually becomes a cancer wherein we have to keep achieving success over and over again in order to feel good about ourselves and how, when we ground our identity on our achievements, our sense of self-worth drains whenever we cannot do things that make us feel worthwhile.

To bolster that idea, I quoted Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen, both of whom spoke and wrote eloquently on exactly this point. The substance of my message and my sources both seemed sound until, at the church door, a man, gracious and honest, gave me pause to reflect. After thanking me for the homily, he asked me this question: "Have you ever wondered at the fact that it is invariably very successful people and high achievers who, after they have achieved a lot, tell you that it isn't important to achieve anything? I think Mother Teresa, a household name for the whole world, carrying the Nobel Prize, stepping off a plane somewhere and telling a large, adoring audience that it isn't important to achieve anything. Just be faithful. Or Henri Nouwen, after he had written fifty books and turned down teaching jobs at Harvard and Yale, telling us that it isn't important to be a success, that being is more important than doing. True, no doubt, but tell me this: from where do you get a good sense of self-worth if you are a big, fat nobody?"

His question is not facetious. It is honest and penetrating and it highlights the importance of distinction between the difference seasons of our lives. Jesus' challenge to Martha to move more from activity to contemplation, from doing to being, applies more to someone who is already established in life than to someone who is young and still struggling to establish herself. When we do not make that kind of distinction, we can lay false guilt trips on the young because we are, in fact, misusing the gospel.

Table of Contents:

Part One --- Discipleship

Discipleship and the stages of our lives

Essential discipleship: the struggle to get our lives together

Part Two --- Mature Discipleship: The struggle to give our lives away

Some perspectives from classical spirituality and human sciences

Some general invitations from scripture

Some particular invitation from scripture

Drawing strength from prayer

Its crowning glory, blessing others

Simplifying our spiritual vocabulary: ten commandments for the long haul

Part Three --- Radical discipleship: the struggle to give our deaths away

Radical discipleship: anticipatory incompletions