Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr

(San Francisco; Jossey-Bass, 2011)

“There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life.  The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”

This is more than a book about spiritual maturity, it’s a book about making sense of life when the wheels fall off.  For those of us who allow life to move us beyond simplistic answers and responses, seeking meaning in our suffering as well as our love, we will eventually find ourselves on the ‘second journey’.  Rohr proposes that if we know about this basic journey of life, we conduct our early years differently and we construct our generational relationships more significantly.  I’m not sure that I could have understood his concerns prior to experiencing transition into the second journey, which indeed, is something Rohr himself suspects will be true for most of us.

Carl Jung believed that “one cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”  That is, when we fail to grow up, we become absurd in our immaturity. Or, in the characteristic simplicity of the Dalai Lama, “learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.”   Intellectually, this is likely to be an experience of of discovering that “beyond rational and critical thinking, we need to be called again.  This can lead to the discovery of a ‘second naiveté’ which is a return to the joy of our first naiveté, but now totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking” (Paul Ricoeur).  All of which sheds a soft dawning light upon Jesus’ words: “Anyone who wants to save his life, must lose it.  Anyone who loses here life will find it.  What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self?  What can you offer in exchange for your one life?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

So, you can see how Rohr combines Jung’s psychological framework with teaching from a great variety of Spiritual Giants, across the ages and across religious perspectives, to present a convincing picture of this journey as basic to  human nature, one that Jesus understood very well because God created into the very fabric of the universe. “God wanted to give human beings their fullness right from the beginning, but they were incapable of receiving it, because they were still little children” (St Irenaus).

This is not entirely a practical book, though it was very comforting to recognize myself in its pages and that in and of itself is useful.  There are insights and wisdom rather than advice.  Certainly, I’d be happy to pass it on to someone who had an open heart to seeing the mystery of life in their own crumbling world (it’s inexpensive and beautiful printed as well).  I have found Rohr’s approach to be very helpful for making sense of my own life experience and reflecting anew with the Spiritual Wisdom of Jesus and the uniquely beautiful salvation available in Christ, who wraps up all suffering and pain through his own death into our shared resurrected life.

“Jesus, I am convinced, was the first nondualistic [i.e. both/and rather than either/or thinking] religious thinker in the West (there were philosophers like Heraclitus), but his teachings were quickly filtered through Greek dualistic logic!  Nondualistic wisdom is just not helpful when you are trying to form a strong group, clarify first principles, or demonstrate that your idea is superior to others’ ideas.  At that stage, real wisdom appears to be pious and dangerous poetry.  And at that necessary early stage, such warnings are probably right!  But that is also why clergy and spiritual teachers need to be second-half-of-life people, and why so many of us have mangled, manipulated, and minimized the brilliance of Jesus when we heard him in our early stage of development.”

One thought on “Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr

  1. Chelle, a good review. Thanks for dropping by “prodigalkiwi(s)” and for your comment and kind words. Yes, it would seem we are reading similar books, and certainly I support your aim of helping “…others [to] get a sense of some important theological themes and questions for our time and place…and that [your blog] would be helpful in helping others “direct their own reading and reflection in response…”

    Have a good weekend on your side of the Tasman.


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