Getting Ready to Burn (in a good way): a book review

Albert Haase, OFM’s Catching Fire,  Becoming Flame begins with this inscription of this story from the Desert Fathers:

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him,”Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”–The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Catching Fire Becoming Flame: A Guide For Spiritual Transformation by Albert Haase, OFM

Like this Desert Saying, Haase’s new book is not primarily a book about rules or spiritual disciplines. This is a book about  spiritual transformation. At a retreat that Haase led at a retirement home, an elderly nun told him a secret, “God l-o-n-g-s  to turn you into a saint! If you respond to God’s yearning you will be amazed at what happens(3).”  This is a book which helps us respond to God’s yearning and allow him to set our hearts ablaze.

The book consists of thirty-three short chapters divided into five sections. The first two sections layout a conceptual framework while the final three sections deal with practical concerns.  In part one, “the Spark from God,” Haase introduces readers to the spiritual life and the process of transformation.  He talks here about the nature of spiritual awakening, the stages of the spiritual life (purgation, illumination, and union) and how to deal with imperfections, sins and bad habits. He also talks about the necessity of CPR–Community, Prayer, and Repentance– if we are to grow and change in our relationship with God.  In”Kindling,”  Haase’s second section, he explores  in depth various spiritual concepts. Haase exhorts his readers to be secure in the love of God, to be attentive to prayer, have an attitude of Gratitude, cultivate Spiritual senses to see where God is at work, be aware of our ‘false self’ and the way suffering functions in the Spiritual life.

In the third section, “Catching Fire” Haase presents various prayer methods: the examen, meditation and contemplation, lectio divina, Imaginative prayer (Ignatian meditation), wonder-ing with creation, praying the stations of the Cross, and praying the Lord’s prayer.  Haase is able to draw together the insights of various writers on prayer and the Spiritual life and summarize their insights.

The fourth section, “Fanning the Flame,”  describes Spiritual Discernment.  As in the other sections, Haase articulates insights from a number of writers on the Spiritual life, but he uses his own story of listening to God’s call to missions in China as an example of how discernment works (Haase was a missionary to China for twelve years before being forced to leave).  He talks here about the nature of discernment, decision making and the experience of dryness, darkness and depression even when you feel like you are answering God’s call on your life. Haase recommends ongoing Spiritual direction, appropriate self-care and creating a personal rule of life to help us counteract the confusion that comes as we try to walk in the ways of God.

In his final section, “Becoming All Flame,”  Haase speaks about dynamic commitments necessary for living out the Spiritual life. Some of these are ongoing practices (i.e. the Examination of the Conscience, Sabbath Rest, Silence and Solitude, Pilgrimage, etc.). Other commitments are ongoing orientations (i.e. surrender and abandonment, forgiveness, Revealing everything to God).

Haase writes as a Franciscan preacher, retreat-leader and spiritual director. His writing inhabits Franciscan spirituality but he also draws on the insights of Benedictines and Jesuits and occasionally, Evangelical protestants.  The insights and practices Haase commends are instructive for any who seek to deepen their faith and be transformed into the image of Christ.  What I especially liked about this book was how down-to-earth it was.

While I certainly found things I disagree with in these pages (i.e.  I’m suspicious of some aspects of centering prayer), I admire the depth and insights of Haase’s writing and happily recommend this book. I give it ★★★★★ and think that Catholics and Protestants alike will appreciate this book. Why not become all flame?

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

[Note: Paraclete Press also has a DVD Curriculum available based on this book]

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