A long time ago, I was introduced to the words “action and contemplation” through reading the works of Richard Rohr, OFM, as I reluctantly reverted to the Catholicism of my youth. In what was probably the first inkling that my divided brain might do better if integrated, the two words blended in perfect harmony for me. I have tried to live this ever since – and I’m still trying to get that balance right, 22 years on.
It was with great joy that I encountered this path of action and contemplation when I opened “From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism” by Chris Haw, from Ave Maria Press. Not only did I relate to those terms, but I’m a sucker for a “Catholic revert” story, especially if it does not mean eliminating your prior life or becoming too pious. What’s a Catholic revert, you ask? Well, we can’t be converts if we started out this way, no matter how far we strayed, or for how long, right? And while I have nothing against piety, piety alone may lead to the contemplation more than the action, when both are needed.
Fellow revert or not, I was not sure what to expect from Haw. Willow Creek? I admit it; I was not sure where this was going, although the Sacred Heart in Camden drew me in. I know someone who lives there, and I have been quite moved by the church and the community it serves, in the heart of an impoverished area with violent crime. As the author himself admits, stereotyping church types easily proves us wrong, and any misgivings I had were lost a few pages into the book.
The author is a compelling storyteller, writing with a wisdom that belies his age in years. Without cutting off his past experiences, Haw shows us what it means to truly be transformed in Christ, in a very real and embodied way. His own transformation from being part of a mega-church community, to being part of a Catholic Church community, is a testament to how we are called to be one. Without ever rejecting his past, he lives directly into his present and future in a most powerful way. In fact, he is very clear that his foundations at Willow Creek, Eastern University, and with intentional Christian friends like Shane Claiborne, have made him into who he is.
Well schooled in theology, the easily accessible and conversant discussions of Catholics from Thomas Aquinas to G.K. Chesterton (who is frequently cited) are refreshing. Rather than the heady study of God, this book makes real the many facets of God. And beyond that, just how the theology matters in the flesh and blood world of life in Camden, a place where much blood is spilled.
If I had to call out a favorite chapter, it would be, Chapter Nine: On Becoming Part of a Terrible Organization. With startling clarity, we are lead through Haw’s experience of entering a church at a time when some of the darkest moments of the sex abuse scandal were becoming known. This all happened against the backdrop of post-9/11, and the start of the war in Iraq; a time of terrible bad news. Yet, the clutter is cleared with astounding honesty and I imagine that I will return to the pages of this particular chapter many times.
A compelling argument for becoming part of the Catholic Church is not unfamiliar in the book world. A compelling argument like Chris Haw’s is very different from most others that you will read. With all the headiness of theological rhetoric, with all the heart of the Mystical Body and with all the guts of the sacramental world, this book is one of the best that I have ever read.
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