Let’s be clear, this is Marmite. Some of you are going to hate it; some of you are going to love it. The subtitle is “spirituality for the two halves of life”. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and an established author, looks at life in two sections. The first part is about establishing identity, finding security, learning to function. The second half is about figuring out why any of those things matter. In Rohr’s own words, “The first half of life is discovering the script, the second half is actually writing it and owning it.” He quotes the Dalai Lama, “Know the rules so well, you can break them effectively.”
It’s a book that many people who have grown up within the Christian church in Northern Ireland will be drawn too, and yet it’s so much more than that. Rohr invites everyone to embrace the second part of life, a more peaceful existence which is about participation rather than assertion; you know who you are and have greater freedom to be.
Making references to many different religions Rohr also critiques them. “It is religion’s job to teach us and guide us on this discovery of our True Self, but it usually makes the mistake of turning this into a worthiness contest of some sort, a private performance, or some kind of religious achievement on our part, through our belonging to the right group, practising the right rituals, or believing the right things. These are just tugboats to get you away from the shore and out into the right sea; they are the oars to get you working and engaged with the Mystery”.
I know I lost quite a lot of you right there. You were wobbly back on ‘spirituality’, off balance at ‘True Self’ and gone at ‘Mystery’! And the truth is that while ‘Falling Upward’ will be a delight to some, and lost on others, it all depends on what stage of the journey you find yourself on. (And yes, I do know that even that last phrase causes some church people concern.) Personally, I love the idea of looking at where our rituals and rigmaroles were intended to lead us, and then moving beyond them.
If, like me, you have reached a stage in life and faith where your doctrines are held less tightly, you have more questions than answers and your acts of worship centre more on who you are, what you do and how you do it, then this might just be for you.
I warn you, not all of it is easy going. I think it fell into thirds for me. A third was “yes, that!” and I understood completely. A third I needed to think about some more. And a third was, frankly, a bit lost on me -I intend to reread it before the year is out.
I’m 44. Alright, much closer to 45. It’s a good stage. I believe the best years are still ahead, (though maybe not physically) I know enough now to both make good choices, but also to know the limits of my knowledge. I find myself drawn to Rohr’s invitation to grow towards the ‘elder’ life, to be able to “define the centre, depth and circumference of a dialogue, just by being there.” To be someone who “is generative … eager and able to generate life from his or her own abundance and for the benefit of following generations.” That’s the work, but also the gift of the second half of life.
I’ll leave you with three other quotes to ponder:
“Your concern is not so much to have what you love anymore, but to love what you have.”
“Most people confuse their life situation with their actual life, which is an underlying flow beneath their daily events. This deeper discovery is largely what religious people mean by ‘finding their soul’.”
“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it.”