Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fire Within

by Father Thomas Dubay

Started: 30 March 2007
Finished: 11 March 2008

No, of course it doesn’t take a year to read this book. Don’t be put off by my dates. Yes, I did begin this book almost a year ago—that much is true. But I could have easily read it in a fraction of the time. I deliberately stretched out my reading of Fire Within as one savors a fine wine or the most exquisite of chocolates.

I read books for all sorts of reasons: information, self-improvement, spiritual growth, meditation and even, yes, a few for simple relaxation. I always have a few books going in critical places which I can pick up at any time to read a few lines or even several pages if I’m stuck waiting for awhile. My critical places include: the car, the kitchen table, my bedside and my prayer corner. Fire Within has been my prayer corner book. I’ve been reading a little bit from it and other books which I keep in a basket there. I used to be better about limiting myself to one book at a time per location. It helped keep me better focused; I believe I need to return to that habit.

Fire Within is about prayer. In fact, it is subtitled, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel—on Prayer. Father Thomas Dubay, who I had the supreme honor of meeting two months ago, has made it his life’s work to study the sixteenth century Spanish Carmelite contemplatives and doctors of the Church, Sts. Teresa and John. I was first introduced to his work via the video series, Contemplation: Union With God, where Father explores the reality of everyone’s call to a deeper prayer life with Our Lord. Yes, I thought, that’s fine for saints, priests and religious, but it’s not for the likes of ordinary people such as me. On the contrary! That is precisely who is called into that deepening relationship with Jesus; we are all called to Him and by Him.

After watching the video series, I was intrigued by this universal call (which sounded like some well-kept family secret!) and bought the book. When do we get this call? How do we hear it? Why have I never heard about this before? Surely ‘contemplation’ isn’t for everyone?! And yet time after time in his lectures, Father drew on Scriptural references for his arguments. There was nothing the two great saints said which couldn’t be supported from the New Testament. It was just that I had never heard prayer explained in quite this way before.

Growing up Catholic, prayer was vocal and formulaic. It had plenty of patterns and rules. I believed in prayer and knew it was the only way to a closer relationship with God—and yet, I never really seemed to be ‘getting anywhere’ with my prayer life. I felt like the blindfolded person in blindman’s bluff—arms outstretched, stumbling, reaching, going round in circles, trying to find God, or someone, but not sure which way to go.

Finding this book was truly a Godsend for me. Although it deals with very complex theological concepts (at times) it is written in a straightforward and easy-to-read manner. It is laid out logically and covers all the bases and relevant questions beginning with the topic of the book itself.

Are twenty-first century people hungry for God? We long for Him as much today as we did when St. Augustine wrote, “ Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.”

My favorite chapters in this book are the ones dealing with Friendship and Spiritual Direction. They are also the ones which are the most severely marked up in my edition.

There are several tests for determining a really good booklady book. First, I feel elated and yet slightly sad upon completing it. Second, it inspires me to read other books. In this case, I have already lined up the complete works of the two Carmelites as well as their biographies, and I’m looking at several Bible studies. Thirdly, I find myself reluctant to put the finished book back on the shelf. It’s as if over the course of our journey together, it has become a friend—would you put your friend on a shelf? And last but not least, I want to recommend it to everyone. I do!


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