I was… that is, until I started to read it. At a certain point I wasn’t so sure if I truly wanted to keep going. You see while the title appealed to me, and while I fancied myself as someone who is a “deep human” and who is a relatively “mature Christian” – reading Rolheiser’s frank words made it clear to me that I have quite a ways to go. I didn’t feel judged by the book, but it was a bit of an uncomfortable awakening as I journeyed deeper and deeper into this 342 page gem. This book gave me pause on numerous occasions. This is a good thing.
Sacred Fire picks up where his previous book, The Holy Longing, leaves off. The author’s basic premise is that in our young adult years, Christians are to focus on and express “essential discipleship” – which is about getting the basics of the faith and the struggle “to get our lives together.” (The focus of the previous book – which is ideal for college students, young persons in various trades or in the military, and those recently beyond those years).
Upon reaching middle age, we shift and are invited to grow toward “mature discipleship” which has us owning our general proficiency in the faith and training our sights on giving our lives away. Passing the torch to younger folks and equipping them to blossom and grow.
A 45 year-old campus minister at a major university, I’m at an age that is statistically beyond middle age for the life expectancy for the average American male. In many ways I am proficient in the faith, and some might even say that I have a certain degree of mastery of parts of it. But Sacred Fire provided a keen mirror that showed me some of my blind spots. It dawned on me that in some ways I’m experiencing a retardation in my discipleship. You see, I was a late bloomer when it came to romantic relationships. I was married for 10 years and have been divorced for the past 9. I had only had one girlfriend prior to meeting the woman who I was married to.
So, while I’m at a stage in life where I should be giving back and focusing on giving my life away. That process is handicapped by competing with a renewed need to get some of my life back together – finding a life-mate to share life with.
I suppose in some ways, my predicament, and somewhat hectic dating life, has given me a fair bit of life experience that allows me to know what I’m talking about as I work with young adults. So in away, it helps me give my life away to them. But the reality is that until I get my relational life settled (as someone who isn’t called to singleness), I’m currently hamstrung in fully being the “mature disciple” that I am called to be.
Happily, Sacred Fire provides numerous tips, insights, a bevy of powerful quotes, and loads of time-tested wisdom to help normalize my situation and to give me permission to accept, own, and breathe into my reality with grace and assurance.
The third adult level of Christian maturity is “radical discipleship” – which is the stage where we find ways to own and accept our mortality, and to give our deaths away to our loved ones.
As a motorcyclist, I perhaps think more about my mortality than most, but as I read those words aimed at folks at that season of their lives, I realize that I’m only fathoming what is being shared as someone at my level of discipleship is able to comprehend. It’s sort of like a 6 year-old younger brother overhearing his 14 and 18 year old big sisters talking about sex.
The author has a truly gifted way with words that doesn’t come across as “churchy,” or spiritually elitist (as certain “spiritually evolved/integrated” persons tend to do). He instead comes across more as a wise older brother or uncle who is the one who we feel an ease with – and can be real with. A possible critique might be that his writing may come across as having a bit of a male bias (mostly noticed in the anecdotes and analogies that are shared – possibly due to the author being a member of a Catholic oblate brotherhood – O.M.I.) and I’ll be curious to learn how female readers experience this book. While a Catholic, Rolheiser has a refreshing theological outlook and is rarely doctrinal and frequently notably gracious, generous, and inclusive in his writing.
Sacred Fire is going to be a book that I will come to again and again over the years that I’m blessed to walk this big blue marble – and no doubt getting more out of it each time that I do.
xx – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity