TOB Pioneer’s Brand-New Book Is a Compelling Point of Convergence of ‘Head’ and ‘Heart’
Book Review: ‘Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing,’ by Christopher West [Image Catholic Books (Crown Publishing), release date: Jan. 8, 2013]
Being a native St. Louisan born in the late 1960s, I grew up knowing the story of the construction of our city’s greatest symbol—the St. Louis Arch, the “Gateway to the West.” I’ve seen the iconic images of the construction of the Arch, its two legs reaching heavenward, kept stable by ever-ascending scaffolding, until the long-awaited day that the final piece of construction, the “keystone” piece of the Arch, was put in place 600-plus feet above the Earth. And there it stood, in three dimensions—the three dimensions of physical space. But I think even the magnitude of this earthly achievement pales in comparison to the three “D”s that give shape and size to every human person’s lifelong journey, as told to us by author Christopher West in his latest book, “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing.”
What are West’s three “D”s?—desire, design, and destiny. More on these in a moment. But let’s just say at the outset that the “Arch” comparison is not to move us closer to some rather terrible pun on “Gateway to the West” (surely someone was thinking I’d go there, since I’m capable of some awful punnery…), but rather to make the point that, after reading “Fill These Hearts,” I’ve come away convinced that West’s latest book is effectively the “keystone” creative work in which West is able to bring together the two elements of “head” and “heart” that have been so foundational in his pioneering work as an expositor of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
Think of it this way: over the last several decades many have been seeking to discover (“head” knowledge) just what JPII was “thinking” in his monumental TOB corpus, but few other than Christopher West have also been building upon the other essential and foundational “leg” of this particular “arch,” still under construction—the “heart.” And it is here that one encounters the great connection between TOB and the spiritual life—the “way of Christian perfection” espoused by so many of the mystic Saints, Doctors, and theologians of the Church, particularly St. John of the Cross.
The beauty of West’s writing style in “Fill These Hearts” is that there is little or no sign of the internal construction that is necessary to arrive at the top-center “keystone” of this beautiful TOB “Arch” he has constructed. Just like the St. Louis Gateway Arch, all cables and elevators and generators that get people to and from the top are tucked away, leaving the tourist left to merely enjoy the breathtaking view at the top. Such a masterful approach! Here is an author who can at one turn leave a reader who is just learning about TOB tantalized by the philosophical richness of Karol Wojtyla’s “Love and Responsibility” and at the next turn can encourage the TOB expert to consider the depth of Christian truth found in “Toy Story 3”—not many writers can move so effortlessly from place to place.
This “keystone” work brings together “head” and “heart” in such a way as to invite readers of any background to consider the simple truths that are deep within us, inscribed in us by God Himself. Desire, design, and destiny—the “3D” approach West takes in the book—help to shape the author’s gentle yet joyful and deeply personal understanding of the God-given meaning of our human existence. In terms familiar to most of us, West paints a vivid portrait of our experience of “desire” for God and for the joy He can bring us, our discovery of God’s “design” for us as body-soul human persons, and the “destiny” He calls us to—eternal and intimate union with the One Who created us.
And West does so unabashedly, willing to share his own hard-earned experience to illuminate the message, while also reaching within secular and pop culture to pull back the veil on those “glimmers” of truth that occasionally sparkle in the midst of a decidedly confused culture—“God moments” surrounded by the dreck and noise of Godless distraction. In West’s hands, these become like beacons of hope that speak to the crying universal longing within us all, pointing to the path that takes us beyond the plastic world of our own creation and toward the infinite and real beauty of God Himself.
In a sense, this is a book unlike any other West has written. As West himself indicates, the book takes its cue from the “Fill These Hearts” live multimedia events West has been part of for several years now. It is truly a “dialogue between sacred and secular,” as West says at the beginning of the book—yet another “arc” of conversation that the author links with this keystone effort. West also easily bridges the gap between two other seemingly disparate constructs: theology and pop culture, two areas of study he continues to passionately pursue.
This is the kind of book you can give to a Christian, a non-Christian, a poet, a scientist, a scholar, a laborer, etc.—at just about 170 pages of decidedly down-to-earth, Scripturally rooted reflection, I simply can’t imagine anyone closing the cover thinking they’ve wasted their time—and this could well be a life-changing resource for so many struggling to make sense of the three “D”s of desire, design, and destiny.
Just one more word of encouragement to future readers of “Fill These Hearts” (available beginning January 8, 2013) from this St. Louis home-towner who knows a thing or two about arches: “Dear reader—welcome to the top of the TOB “Arch”; I know you’re going to enjoy the view!
God bless you,
[TWITTER: #FTHbook ]