There are some books that demand a re-reading, even before you’ve finished reading the book the first time through. I believe Father Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass, 2011) is such a book.
Rohr, a Franciscan priest and internationally-known author and speaker who may perhaps be best known for his groundbreaking book A Christian Perspective on the Enneagram, offers readers a deep, shimmering and sometimes-upending perspective on the spiritual work that is meant to take place during the second half of our life journey in Falling Upward. Because so many friends in my age group are wrestling with the transition into the second half, and because the twenty- and thirty-something young women I know are asking so many first half questions, Rohr’s wise thoughts are worth considering.
To that end, during the next few weeks, I plan to blog my way through a second reading of the book. I’ll be blogging about other topics as well (because I always have plenty to say), but want to slow down and give the ideas in this important book a closer look, one chapter at a time. Even if you have no interest in reading the book, what I share may offer you some food for thought as you consider what is shifting and growing in your soul in 2012.
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“If you realize that there is a further journey, you might do the warm-up act quite differently, which would better prepare you for what follows. People at any age must know about the whole arc of their life and where is it tending and leading.”
In his preliminary notes, Rohr notes that most people are focused on the tasks of the first half of life: establishing identity, creating boundaries, pursuing significance and security. These tasks are necessary, but Rohr asserts that they are our warm-up act, not the destination. The disorientation as we discover that our first half pursuits lead us, not to a heaven-on-earth finish line, but to uncharted territory is a “necessary suffering” designed to put us in touch with what God has wired inside of each of us – homesickness.
“…all God wants from any of us is to humbly and proudly return the product that we have been given – which is ourselves!”
Rohr says this relinquishing of ourselves is the most courageous thing we will ever do: “…and it takes both halves of our lives to do it fully,” His introduction notes that the first task of human life is to construct a container (our identity) and the second is to discover the contents that the container was meant to hold.
Though it is impossible to prepare for the second half of the journey – and by “prepare”, I mean “get ready for what’s coming in order to avoid the discomfort and grief of this transition” – understanding the shift that must happen will help us live into it. This is a luxury most cultures in history haven’t had, says Rohr. “Probably most cultures and individuals across history have been situated in the first half of their own development up to now, because it is all they had time for.”
Growth, he tells us, comes from falling, from failing, and from reversal. And perfection is echoed best in the person who can forgive and include imperfection, not the one who thinks he or she is totally above it. That downward path, that falling, is what moves us from the first half of our lives to the second and points us toward Home.
Have you found it to be true that your spiritual and emotional growth comes from falling, failing and reversal? Do you agree with Rohr’s thoughts about the primary tasks of the two halves of life?