Falling Upward, Chapter 1

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?


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5 thoughts on “Falling Upward, Chapter 1”

  1. Off the top of head, nurturing mentors might include going through books such as this to give those in the second half a language to engage in this conversation. Regular, intentional expressions to 2nd 1/2’ers of the necessity to pass on their experiences and their wisdom by investing time and energy in the 1st 1/2’ers is needed.

    Rohr mentions the elderly in our culture are too often considered naive. So true. However, I think the flip side of that is that the seasoned or more mature too often dismiss the enthusiasm and the zeal of 1st 1/2’ers. It could be because as he said those in the 1st half cannot learn until they transcended to the 2nd, but maybe if those in the 2nd 1/2 were nurtured and coached as mentors there could be a measure of effectiveness.

    Also, sometimes on the job experience is the best. Mentors can be nurtured by actual practice. For example, pairing up married couples to younger, newly married or those on 2nd marriages. Pairing up a retired entrepreneur or business man with a young, not even out of the gate entrepreneur. Pairing up a a hero/heroine mentor who emerged during an extended illness with one who just got a diagnosis, etc. Then having mentors from the local church meet regularly for debriefing and gaining insight, perspective, etc. and gauging progress.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Angie!

    I think the part that is missing from my own mentoring experience is what you mentioned in your final line – gathering mentors together to debrief, share insight and gauge progress. Have you seen a church do this successfully?

    (It sounds like you’ve already read Rohr’s book – how did you like it?)

  3. I’m not sure how to gauge success other than lines of communication remaining open, friendships forged and retained, etc. as transcending to the 2nd 1/2 is the process of maturation which people do in different ways and rates. Something to think about.

    The rural church I had been a part for 17 yrs was small (<100) and very close knit and friendships were across all age ranges. When you are small breaking up into different groups i.e. gender/age is not practical. Some relationships were intentional mentoring/discipleship and others grew into that organically. It may have reflected more of what I described than I realized probably b/c it wasn't codified in some written format.

    I think having it codified is beneficial for various practical purposes.

    I actually have not read any of R's books. I first heard of him a couple of years ago from a male friend who has read much of his material; I have only perused his website. After reading your post on the intro to the book, I bought it to follow along b/c I thought it would be beneficial.

  4. I think some of this mentor-to-mentor connection is happening organically in the circles in which I travel, but I sense that some of these conversations could use a little more focus and direction without it turning into yet another church program. Codifying things somehow…I will be thinking about what that might look like at the church we attend. Organic is good. Focus/purpose is good. How to marry the two?

    I’m honored that you’ll be following along, Angie. I hope you’ll share some of your observations as we go! Blessings to you –

  5. Pingback: Falling Upward, Chapter 2 @ Michelle van Loon

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