Book Review: SACRED FIRE by Ronald Rolheiser (New York: Image, 2014).

This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a book for the website, but this book deserves high praise. I’ll admit I haven’t always been the greatest Rolheiser fan, enjoying Holy Longing and his on-line columns, but finding him quite male, quite clerical.

That bias changed with the newest book. He begins with the question Teresa of Avila posed to those approaching their later years:

“When one reaches the highest degree of human maturity, one has only one question left: How can I be helpful?”

He explores many responses to that question, with one of the finest being the chapter on blessing. How often we squelch exuberance and deny joy: that’s Rolheiser’s definition of the curse (rather wittily contrasted to the abuse we heap on our computers when they have a meltdown). Instead, our response should be like God’s, blessing: “In you I take delight.”  I especially like his image of the “final picture of human and Christian development”: not the suffering martyr, but a blessing grandparent, beaming with pride and radiating the Creator’s energy, “Indeed, it is very good.”  

A practical tip I’ll remember for prayer, and include in my talks on prayer: when one prays with hurt, for instance about the death of a loved one, it’s tempting to focus on the loss. But the result will often be a greater obsession with “that from which you are trying to free yourself.” Instead, focus on God. Difficult as that is, it’s an opportunity for God to gently “widen again the scope of your heart and mind.” Rolheiser uses the lovely image of the wounded child climbing into the parent’s lap, simply content to be held. One final line I cherish: the holiest person you know is the most grateful person you know.

No beach read, this is one to savor slowly, pausing often and relating it to personal experience. I’m a bit of a cynic about much of the spirituality that appears in print now, but this one is genuinely worth a long, reflective stretch of time.

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