Sr. Sue Mosteller reviews Fr. Ron Rolheiser's forthcoming book, The Fire Within: Desire, Sexuality, Longing, and God
The Fire Within: Desire, Sexuality, Longing, and God — a book review by Sr. Sue Mosteller, available March 16.
Join us on retreat with Fr. Ron on March 5, The Passion and the Cross: Revealing Secrets Hidden from the Beginning of Time!
The Fire Within may happily inspire and enlighten a younger reader’s understanding and approach to sexuality and sexual intercourse, whereas this manuscript provokes something else for those in the second half of life. My experience, as an elder, was one of ‘personal’ Liberation Theology, not defined as “political liberation for oppressed peoples,” but rather about “personal liberation” from negative angst and shame associated with sexual feelings, thoughts, and intercourse. Ronald Rolheiser is a teacher/priest/man of God with a fresh vision into our never-ending inner anxiety and restless search to experience and hold onto unconditional love.
Deep within we all know the insatiable and troubling longings for intimacy and satisfaction that naturally arise with puberty and last a lifetime, and which are cultivated and manipulated in every form of entertainment in our culture. And in those rare moments when sex comes up in conversation, some of us remember being told by parents or loved ones we were “dirty,” “distorted,” or “sinful.” We ask, “What is the source of these troubling, powerful, and universally unfulfilled desires? In whose writings have any of us ever found a satisfying or positive exposition of our life-long, unfulfilled turmoil?”
The Fire Within takes God beyond the traditional definition of being “a male celibate with no wife.” Instead, we are offered a much more appealing picture of our Primal Designer and Initiator. In the very essence of Love’s creative design for each one of us, our Maker never ceases, through our restless inner yearnings, to tempt us to taste, see, and engage with everlasting and unconditional Personified Love.
This book defines, explains, and expands on our experience of ‘longing’ in the depths of our complex humanity, and we resonate with descriptions like, “fleshy, tangible, earthy,” and “the marriage bed not something for angels.” Each of the author’s short chapters unabashedly addresses aspects of the inner movements of what Fr. Ron describes as “raw desire in the bottomless cavern of our complexity.” Moving beyond the bad theology described as “a certain quota of pain that must be endured before God can come,” Fr. Ron’s book announces sound theology, clearly describing how “carrying tension stretches, expands, and swells the heart, creating in it, the space within which God can come.”
I was particularly moved by the author’s willingness to share personally about “all that energy boiling up inside,” and of finally hearing a lecture that gave him, “the sacred permission to be at home inside my own skin.” He reiterates how wrong it is to shame a young person struggling with the onset of puberty by using words like “guilty,” or “distorted.” He frees us from claiming “evil energies,” and clarifies our misuse betimes, of what is truly “our God-given, sacred energy.”
Fr. Ron also addresses anger, mainly in women, and grief, more in men, which we know deep within ourselves, as well as from images and reports from multi-media announcing COVID vaccines, stolen from vulnerable caregivers and the elderly, and given instead to the rich. Or where protesters in a Democracy are encouraged by elected officials, to utilize violence, and property destruction to gain their point of view. The Fire Within quotes Rollo May’s suggestion that “the opposite of love is not hate or anger. The opposite of love is indifference.” May’s reasoning is that “you can only really hurt (grieve) or be properly and thoroughly angry with somebody you love.” And he goes on to say, “Most anger, in the end, is a form of grief.”
Ronald Rolheiser is a gifted author with a deep knowledge of human psychology. We have only to marvel at the wisdom he has gleaned through his reading, when we realize how many recent, ancient, and reliable writers he cites in literally every chapter of this manuscript. Fr. Ron’s quotes assure the reader that “God didn’t make us in such a way that we find ourselves congenitally distracted, and then facing God’s anger because we are following our nature.” Rather, he offers from an ancient legend, that “before putting the soul into a person about to be born, God kisses the soul.” It’s hard to argue with such a knowing, pastoral author, and so very many valued witnesses.
Sister Sue Mosteller, CSJ is a Sister of St. Joseph of Toronto. After earning a degree in English and teaching for 15 years, Mosteller joined L’Arche, an international network of faith-based communities for those with developmental difficulties. Sue held many positions within the organization including International Coordinator. Under her leadership the L’Arche network expanded from 30 to 65 communities around the world. Sue also served as Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak, a community north of Toronto where Henri Nouwen lived for the last ten years of his life. Sue has written three books, including Light Through the Crack: Life After Loss, which combines memoir with stories from others on living through loss. In December 2019 she was honored as an Officer of the Order of Canada, one of the highest honor for merit for a Canadian. She currently lives in Toronto with a small group of sisters.