I’m blogging through Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality Through The Two Halves Of Life. Click here to read the first post in the series.
In the first chapter of his book, Father Rohr seeks to help his readers understand the nature of those two halves of life. If the first half of life is to create a container for our life that answers questions of identity, security and relationship, the second half of life is a journey toward learning “what the container is meant to hold and deliver”.
“The two halves are cumulative and sequential, and both are very necessary.”
I have known a few male and female Peter Pans in my life, mired in their own fabulous narcissism, hoping they die before they get old. Are these childish adults those who believe that their life’s purpose is constructing a comfy gilded container for themselves? Rohr traces the issue back to childhood (where it always begins, doesn’t it?): “…if you get mirrored well early in life, you do not have to spend the rest of your life looking in Narcissus’s mirror or begging for the attention of others. You have already been ‘attended to’, and now feel basically good – and always will.” Healthy mirroring by others forms our identity; a lack of it leaves us hollow inside and shapes us into self-focused adults.
“Human life is about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, creating tribes, and teaching impulse control.”
Chapter 1 then moves into a discussion about the process of spiritual growth. Most every religion differentiates between novices and masters, between students and teachers. Spiritual maturity is inclusive of all the previous stages, just as physiological maturity builds on each developmental stage we experience: rolling over to crawling to walking (and falling!) to running and climbing. Second-half maturity means we are “patient, inclusive, and understanding of all the previous stages”. Jesus’ ministry years are a perfect example of spiritual maturity in action. At the same time he was welcoming messed-up people, he was confronting religious leaders who insisted that their gilded containers equaled mature faith. It is important to note that this wasn’t impatience. His words to them were a rescue mission – the equivalent of a pair of electric paddles designed to jolt them their stone hearts alive.
He notes that most churches are far better at helping people in the first half of life than the second, and not merely because churches are dedicated to programming for growing families. “The first journey is always about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, correct rituals, Bible quotes, and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for actual spirituality (see Matthew 23:13-32). Yet they are all used and needed to create the container. Yes, it is largely style and sentiment instead of real substance, but even that is probably necessary. Just don’t give your life for mere style and sentiment.”
With these thoughts in mind, thought about churches I’ve known who are making a real attempt at helping their community move toward this sort of maturity. Quite a few, including the congregation we attend, offer mentoring programs or pairings to members. That’s something, to be sure. But if a mentor relies on formulas, emotions and externals – style and sentiment – well, no one has a great opportunity to grow into Christ-likeness. A mentor must be able to be “patient, inclusive and understanding of all the previous stages” they’ve lived. Most of us who’ve mentored younger believers end up in the role because we’re older. Age contributes to, but does not equal, maturity. What are some ways that we can coach and nurture mentors? Does anyone out there have some positive examples of this?
Beyond mentoring, what are some other ways you’ve seen churches helping people move toward a spirituality for the second half?