Falling Upward: Chapter 13 / Conclusion
I’ve been blogging through Father Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality Through The Two Halves Of Life. Even if you haven’t read the book, please stick around and join the conversation here if you’re facing a mid-life transition. Father Rohr offers us all some meaty food for thought.
Here are links to my previous posts in the series: Intro — Chapter 1 — Chapter 2 — Chapter 3 —Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12
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I started this journey through Falling Upward at the start of this calendar year; today brings us to its conclusion. Father Rohr begins this chapter by noting, “Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.” What is inside that Big Picture? A portrait of genuine service to others. “Until and unless you give your life away to others, you do not seem to have it yourself at any deep level,” he says, citing the example of happy, generous and focused young mothers to support the joy found in self-sacrifice.
Part of that joy comes from having our lives mirrored back to us. “It is only those who respond to the real you, good or bad, that help you in the long run. Much of the work of midlife is learning to tell the difference between people who are still dealing with their issues through you and those who are dealing with you as you really are.” Being able to understand that difference keeps us grounded, and not easily swayed by either brickbats or bouquets tossed our way by others. “The only final and meaningful question is ‘Is it true?’ Not ‘Who said it?’ and ‘When and where did they say it?'”
That mirror (in contrast to the revolving and self-reflecting mirrors we use to define ourselves in the first half of life) comes in the form of one completely accepting true friend – or Friend. “Thinking you can truthfully mirror yourself is a first-half-of-life illusion. Mature spirituality has invariably insisted on soul friends, gurus, confessors, mentors, masters, and spiritual directors for individuals, and prophets and truth speakers for groups and institutions.”
…spiritual gifts are always reflected gifts.
Rohr notes that in the second half, people have less power to charm us, but also have less power to control or hurt us. “It is the freedom of the second half not to need.”
Our falling, and flailing, and falling again is no surprise to God. “Failure and suffering are the great equalizers and levelers among humans. Success is just the opposite. Communities and commitment can form around suffering much more than around how wonderful or superior we are. Just compare the real commitment to one another, to the world, and to truth in ‘happy clappy religion’ with the deep solidarity of families at the time of a tragic death or among hospice workers and their clients.”
Our truest mirror and most faithful Friend, our heavenly Father, receives us exactly as we are. “Such perfect receiving is what transform us. Being totally received as we truly are is what we wait and long for all our lives. All we can do is receive and return the loving gaze of God every day, and afterwards we will be internally free and deeply happy at the same time.” Out of that freedom, we are free to mirror others well and without expectation of reciprocity, which is a first-half way of thinking.
If you don’t walk into the second half of your own life, it is you who do not want it.
Father Rohr offers a couple of post-script addendums following the final chapter of the book (a meditation on a Thomas Merton poem and some notes), but this is the point of the book. God is calling each one of us forward, into a second half life that is grounded not just in the words, but the very reality of a life that mirrors “…how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:18-19) In a gravity-defying parable sculpted from the pain and promise of our first-half lives, we fall upward in order to overflow.
A few you who have followed some or all of this series have written me to tell me you’ve purchased this book. I’m grateful to have been able to share the journey with you. Though there are moments in the book that will tweak some conservative Evangelical readers, I believe that if you’re reading a book about the second half of life, then you – and the Holy Spirit at work within you – have the grid you need to be able to drink the life-giving nectar and toss the few theological bones that may stick in your gullet.
The gift of this book was the language Rohr gave to the groanings of my soul during this time of transition in my life. He helped to explain my experience, and reminded me in this disorienting new territory of midlife that there is no going back, nor do I truly wish to do so. I am, indeed, falling upward.