Book Review: Catching Fire, Becoming Flame
Author: Albert Haase, OFM
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781612612973
Catching Fire, Becoming Flame: A Guide for Spiritual Transformation
I’ve been a reader of Albert Haase for a few years now and have several of his books in my library. I’ve grown to really appreciate the depth of his writing and style in which he conveys spiritual truth. He writes with such a gentle and winsome attitude, but with clarity and richness that I have not experienced in very many writers. He has become one of my favorite Christian authors. It was for this reason that I was excited and looking forward to Catching Fire, Becoming Flame: A Guide for Spiritual Transformation. I’ve had this book open, reading, and actively teaching from it now for almost six months and I feel as though I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all that it has to offer. This book is rapidly becoming my “go to” resource for sharing the disciplines and exercises for spiritual formation.
Haase has arranged this guide into five major sections. Section one, The Spark from God, is an introduction to the spiritual life; here the author establishes the major premise that spiritual transformation is a life-long process for disciples of Jesus to becoming little Christs (p.7). Still in section one, chapter two presents the invitation to a partnering relationship with God in the process of transformation; Haase writes as follows:
“The awakening is God’s invitation to a relationship. But it still requires our response. God will never force or put pressure upon us; with utmost respect for human free will” (p.11).
Section one continues with an additional three chapters, where the author continues to lay a solid foundation introducing the spiritual life. He shares the Three Stages of the Spiritual Journey in chapter three, distinguishes between Imperfections versus Sins in chapter four, and stresses the importance of Breaking Bad Habits in chapter five before moving ahead to Section two, Kindling: Basic Spiritual Concepts.
In the section of Basic Spiritual Concepts Haase teaches building block principles consisting of God’s love for you, principles of prayer, gratitude, sacraments, issues of the true and false self, and suffering. These are detailed at a high level, but the author does an exemplary job of presenting these concepts in a very understandable fashion. Completing the introduction (section one) and foundational concepts of spiritual transformation (section two), Haase transitions to Section three, Catching Fire: Methods of Prayer, and one of my favorite parts of the book.
I think what I enjoyed so much about this section on prayer is that it was not like so many other books I’ve read about prayer. Many of the previous books I’ve read (not all, but many) speak of prayer in conceptual way… describing prayer almost as an ethereal experience removed from the practical experience. As Fr Albert teaches about prayer he provides tangible prayer exercises for the pray-er to engage, which helps build the experiential witness and the relationship experience between the pray-er and God. This section introduces the reader to such prayer exercises like the Ignatian exercise of the Examen, meditation and contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina or Divine Reading, Imaginative Prayer (another Ignatian exercise), praying the Stations of the Cross, and a couple other very practical prayer exercises.
Section four, Fanning the Flame, broaches the subject of spiritual discernment. This is a very important section and likely one of the more important aspects of spiritual formation and maturity. Much has been written about spiritual discernment and it involves the entire arc of the Christian journey, so I was very, very impressed with how Fr Albert handled this subject in such a limited amount of space. I really believe his coverage of the information and his presentation is extraordinary. This section on discernment touches on “discernment” of spirits, highlighting the importance of practices like the Examen (mentioned earlier). He also stresses the process and importance of discernment in understanding God’s will and making decisions. Haase also presents distinction between the spiritual, emotional, and physical reality of “dryness,” “darkness,” and “depression” (chapter 21), introducing in this chapter the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul (St. John of the Cross). Other very significant aspects of spiritual discernment included in this section are the necessity and importance of spiritual direction relationships, self-care, and how to craft and live according to a personal rule of life.
The last of the major sections (section five), Becoming all Flame: Dynamic Commitments, details the deeply personal and relational ongoing commitment of the relationship between the disciple-follower-man and God. I think I might liken the information and concepts covered in this section to ongoing maintenance of the soul. There are nine short chapters in this last section covering ideas and practices such as an Examination of Conscience, forgiveness, resisting temptations, a life of surrender and abandonment where Fr Albert shares about a very important concept called holy indifference, transparency, silence and solitude, Sabbath rest, pilgrimage, and soul training (which includes traditional practices such as fasting, almsgiving, and forms of prayer).
The book can be equally effective used as a personal study, a group study, or a teaching aid. It has an endnotes section, and numerous bibliography resources at the end of each chapter along with reflection and/or group study questions. The book is also available in a DVD teaching series, although I have not had the opportunity to review it to offer an opinion.
As I have already stated, this is a very comprehensive book…it covers a lot of ground and could have easily been a thousand page volume, but Fr Albert Haase has not sacrificed or compromised any depth of teaching by keeping this book in such a manageable size and format. This is the beauty and the brilliance of Catching Fire, Becoming Flame and precisely why it has become my “go-to” carry-with-me-all-the-time de facto teaching tool.