Lately, I bought a book by Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision For a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. As a writer myself, I underline what particularly strikes me in the books I read. Then, I will dog-ear the pages that are particularly meaningful to me. And, if I’m working on a theme at the time I am reading the book, I also note pages and quotes about the theme in the blank page(s) at the end of a book. I don’t think anyone would want to read a book after I get through with it! But this Rolheiser book is more marked up than any I have read in a long time. It reflects so much what I have come to believe about the Christian life: that we must be deeply connected to Jesus Christ himself through the Indwelling Spirit of God who resides in each of us, if we are to become true followers of Jesus. Belief is not enough. We must, first, allow the Spirit to transform each of us into people who can love like God loves—indiscriminately and fully. And secondly, we must offer forgiveness to everyone we meet.
That means that every issue that gets highlighted in us, say any trauma or pain or anger or fear or lack of forgiveness or love in any number of situations in our lives must be turned over to God for healing. To do that, we have to admit the truth about this issue of ours and not worry that we are imperfect people—we all are. So our prayer, when we realize that yet another issue is highlighted in some way for us, is one of laying our shortcoming on the altar and asking for healing and forgiveness from God.
We also must forgive ourselves for our shortcomings, our failures. Because if we can’t love exactly who we are and forgive ourselves, too, we will continue to be defensive and try to hide all that doesn’t reflect well on us. In that defensiveness, we are not open to God and where He is trying to lead us. We often project that defensiveness, that sin onto others, as if they are the problem, not we ourselves. There is no love in defensiveness, only self-protection.
Some examples from my own life:
- I was taught to be so outer-oriented, to look good for everyone out there, that I was full of doubt about myself. The Spirit once spoke these words clearly to me: “I have an agenda for my life.” Shocked by that statement, I began to ask in every situation I encountered: “What do I really want to do?”
- Later, I heard this: “How can I say I love God, if I can’t love my mother?” I was like a rebellious teenager. I tried for two years to love her, then after spending a weekend with her, as my husband and I were saying goodbye to her on the railroad station in Wilmington, DE, we three were surrounded by a cloud of love which changed our relationship. I could love her and she was grateful from then on for every single thing I ever did for her.
- Sometimes it’s just a manner of how I deal with life; in my case I’m quite impatient. For years I had listened to NPR radio as I drove anywhere. Then one day on my way home from the mountains, I felt that I must turn the radio off. And I was shocked at my anger, impatience, judgment of other drivers. Maybe they never knew about how I felt about them, but it was clear to me that this was a big issue in my life.
Once we acknowledge our faults, we need to become observers of them, acknowledging them, but not letting them affect us emotionally. They will return from time to time, but we will also begin to notice the healing that God is doing in us as we work at deepening our faith in God. And the more we are healed, the closer we move towards God, the more willing we are to look at all our faults and put them on the altar.
I am convinced that this life is a school for us in which we can, if we are willing, learn how to love and forgive—ourselves, our neighbors and our Lord. And that we must keep on learning to surrender all that we are—”the good, the bad and the ugly” as the old Western movie title goes—until the day we die. The issues do not go away, but we are just observers of them, not engaged with all those chinks in our armor.
Let us all let the ‘Sacred Fire’ burn in us! And celebrate the Son who brought this fire to us through the Holy Spirit!