Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity by Ronald Rolheiser

Essential Discipleship - the struggle to get our lives together

Mature Discipleship - the struggle to give our lives away

Radical Discipleship - the struggle to give our deaths away

One of my greatest joys over the last two years has been a book club started with a few friends. We all met through various Christus events and/or CLC participation and share a passion for reading (a.k.a. book nerds). We have read everything from German existentialism to pop psychology to explicitly religious or spiritual books. Our most recent discussion centered around Ronald Rolheiser’s Sacred Fire.  

In his previous book Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, it focused on laying out some fundamental principles of getting our lives together (i.e. essential discipleship). Sacred Fire centers on the question, “Where do I go once the basic question in life is how I can give my life away more generatively, purely, and meaningfully?” Rolheiser says that Holy Longing might be understood as “Discipleship 101 - The Introductory Course” while Sacred Fire would be “Discipleship 201 - The Graduate Course.”

Having not read Holy Longing before Sacred Fire, I did indeed feel like a student who signed up for the wrong course. “Give my life away?!” I mused skeptically. I certainly don’t have my life in enough order to start giving it away. Mature discipleship was described as a phase where a person was now “proficient,” essentially at least, at life and spirituality. At the Mature Discipleship stage our energies are meant to be focused beyond ourselves and beyond our struggle for identity, meaning, and comfort. As I kept reading about mature discipleship, all I could think was maybe I needed to go back and read Holy Longing as a prereq for this book club selection because I was definitely not ready for the graduate course.  

At a time where it seems like many of my friends are in the process of beginning to give their lives away, getting married, making commitments, and welcoming children into the world, I am still trying (begrudgingly I might add) to get my life together to just take care of myself. Was I ready for the “householder” stage of my life? In some ways, yes, and in other ways, definitely not, so maybe I needed to go back to Discipleship 101.

Regarding Christian discipleship some characteristics that Rolheiser associates with initial maturity are:

  • Having drunk in the person and teachings of Jesus, cultivating a personal relationship with him

  • Keep moral lives, in line with his teachings

  • Practice both charity and justice

  • Regular involvement with an ecclesial community

  • Work to keep a mellow, gracious, and forgiving heart

Essential discipleship, the stage from birth through puberty and young adulthood, is the struggle to come to know who we are and how we can live out our lives to be a meaningful, integrated, and positive presence in this world. While not a 10 out 10, I could take an honest look and see that I have fully embraced and weaved a couple of essential discipleship components into my life. So where does this leave me? Too “advanced” for 101 and “not prepared” for 201. At what point could I say I passed essential discipleship and was ready for mature discipleship?

Others in my book club also felt the same tension. Many of us had done the spiritual and identity work to have a good sense of ourselves, however, had yet to fully break the pleasure principle as the basic source of motivation. Rolheiser describes the transition between essential discipleship and mature discipleship as the process to “transform the fiery passions of our deepest eros into a fire that ultimately brings us to our true meaning and puts our lives at the service of God and others.” Sounds like a lifetime worth of dissertations to me. Thankfully there is no qualifying exam or review committee for these life lessons. Even as I feel like I fluctuate between “courses,” I understand this is a lifetime education towards deeper human and Christian maturity. And it is with grace, that God still invites us all to “give our lives away” even while we are still working on it.  

Sable Manson

To Read more about Sacred Fire check out:

Sacred Fire: Q&A with Father Ron Rolheiser OMI - American Magazine (Sept. 3, 2014)

Everyday Faith Videos with Shari Guilfoile - 17.12 min (May 19, 2014)