Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life
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Franciscan priest Richard Rohr—author of, among other titles, The Naked Now and From Wild Man to Wise Man—has written his most sage, most important book yet. The message of Falling Upward is straightforward and bracing: the spiritual life is not static. You will come to a crisis in your life, and after the crisis, if you are open to it, you will enter a space of spiritual refreshment, peace and compassion that you could not have imagined before. He slams orthodoxy and fundamentalism constantly and essentially rules it out as a path for growth and “enlightenment.” He views historical Christian views (and historical, orthodox views of other religions for that matter) as an obstacle rather than a path. Or think of it this way. During the first half, you’re building the “container” for your life: your identity. The second half is all about “filling” that container – giving your life purpose. I am a strong believer in the gleanings available to us from the world of psychotherapy, as all Truth is God's Truth, and what we understand of the human experience from this field can richly flesh out principles we know from Scripture. The danger comes when this is reversed, and Christianity is viewed a
I am 48, and for the past few years, I have wondered where the Church I grew up loving had gone. After reading this thought provoking book by Fr. Rohr, I realized that loud-mouthed members of the Church just haven't been growing up as I have been, sometimes because they can't and not because they won't. It reminded me that the nuns in middle school had warned me that I and my "discerning heart" would face great difficulties as I grew older, but that I was to persevere and stay true to my gift. Fr. Rohr's book helped me remember and understand better what they meant, which was very mysterious and rather frightening at the time. He comments on the fact that many other religions do a better job of understanding God and man, yet remains a “Catholic” because of the “tools” the church gave him. Tools which apparently allowed him to deny all of that church’s doctrine and still call himself a priest. If Catholics need to be converted, Protestants need to do penance. Their shout of “sola Scriptura” (only Scripture) has left them at the mercy of their own cultures, their own limited education, their own prejudices, and their own selective reading of some texts while avoiding others. Partly as a result, slavery, racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and homophobia have lasted authoritatively into our time—by people who claim to love Jesus! I think they need to do penance for what they have often done with the Bible! They largely interpreted the Bible in a very individualistic and otherworldly way. It was “an evacuation plan for the next world” to use Brian McLaren’s phrase—and just for their group. Most of Evangelical Protestantism has no cosmic message, no social message, and little sense of social justice or care for the outsider. Both Catholics and Protestants (Orthodox too!) found a way to do our own thing while posturing friendship with Jesus.” The second mountain is a concept that we all have two big purposes in life. The first is becoming self-reliant. This means seeking after a career, happiness, and general well-being. The second mountain is something more profound, one focused more on the impact one can have on the world, and on achieving joy in true enlightenment. The people who know God well—mystics, hermits, prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator.”Being well into my second half of life and having read several other books on human development and spirituality, I was interested in reading this one also because some good friends recommended it. The book is well worth reading and thinking about. Fr. Rohr has many good things to say. But I found it less helpful to me than other books like it. If that sounds distinctively Christian, it is. Father Rohr is very comfortable in interfaith circles, but he has a decidedly Franciscan vein in his approach to spirituality. Hebrew and Christian scriptures pop up regularly in his prose, but in fresh, deep ways. His scholarship is also very deep, quoting everyone from Church Founders to Paul Ricouer. He is challenging, but in a deeply personal, friendly way.
Rohr tries to use exceptions to make the rule, in the case of “salvation.” He says that because there are mentally ill people, we can’t believe “any of our theories about the necessity of some kind of correct thinking as the definition of ‘salvation.’” If you accept a punitive notion of God, who punishes or even eternally tortures those who do not love him, then you have an absurd universe where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!” It is necessary for us to let go of our ego. But as Rohr points out, we have to have it firmly in our grass before we can do so. That is the purpose of traveling over the first mountain. We have to gain hold of that ego. Falling Upward is one of his most well-known books, and takes a spiritual approach that can be read universally for any religion. Even if you aren’t religious, many of the concepts in this book still appeal to a spiritual center.This is in interesting book. Rohr uses the story of Odysseus as a structure for understanding maturity. He is quite fluent in modern psychology and anthropology as well as the ancient myths. Rohr believes that the ancient myths in many ways better understand how we should live. Finally, Rohr seems to propose that our development is really through a transformation of consciousness through the "falling upward" experience, perhaps aided by the Spirit of God, rather true spiritual rebirth. There is language of "union with ourselves and everything else" that seems more the language of pantheistic monism than of being "at-one" with God in Christ. In fact, it seems at times that Rohr is among those who say that all religions are really saying the same thing and that those who say otherwise are guilty of "either-or" thinking. I would contend that the difference between a "both-and" view that wipes out distinctives and the Christian faith is that the Christian faith is a faith of reconciliation--a third way between "either" and "or" that doesn't wipe out distinctions but reconciles them in Christ. Thomas Merton, the American monk, pointed out that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” Short review: This is a book about embracing maturity. Age is not maturity, we all know immature people that are advanced in years. Rohr believes that we need to embrace the different parts of life. Our younger years are concerned with identity (what we do, who we marry, etc.). Our older years should be concerned with meaning. So if we properly understand how to mature, we live inside the structures of of life in our younger years and then we learn when to leave the structures of live in our older years.
The first thing Rohr tells us is that the seriousness of the second half of life is characterized by what he calls “a bright sadness and a sober happiness.” Although there is still darkness, we’re able to cope with it with less anxiety. We think differently, too. We have less of a need to hold on to hurts from the past and less of a desire to judge others. We lose our feelings of superiority. And we learn not only to stop fighting stupidity but to actively ignore it. We work for change, using our influence to persuade quietly. Without the effect of air resistance, each object in free fall would keep accelerating by 9.80665 m/s (approximately equal to 32.17405 ft/s) every second. In reality, though, a falling object's velocity is constrained by a value called the terminal velocity. In Falling Upward, Fr Richard Rohr offers a new understanding of one of life’s most profound mysteries: how our failing can be the foundation for our ongoing spiritual growth. Drawing on the wisdom from time-honoured myths, heroic poems, great thinkers and scared religious texts, the author explores the two halves of life to show that those who have fallen, failed, or ‘gone down’ are the only ones who understand ‘up’. The heartbreaks, disappointments and first loves of life are actually stepping stones to the spiritual joys that the second half has in store for us. In Falling Upward, Fr Richard Rohr offers a new understanding of one of life's most profound mysteries: how our failing can be the foundation for our ongoing spiritual growth. Drawing on the wisdom from time-honoured myths, heroic poems, great thinkers and sacred religious texts, the author explores the two halves of life to show that those who have fallen, failed, or 'gone down' are the only ones who understand 'up'. The heartbreaks, disappointments and loves of the first half of life are actually stepping stones to the spiritual joys that the second half has in store for us.In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us.”