Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
“The first task (of life) is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.” Richard Rohr explains this theory in the introduction to his latest book, Falling Upward, about the “two halves of life.”
I found the title of this book to be very appropriate knowing how the author approaches many of the paradoxes found in our world, especially when it comes to theology and spirituality. I was drawn to Falling Upward because I have often felt that I viewed the world and my faith differently than many of my peers, as well as other adults in my life that are considerably older than me. This book helped give me insight into why and what I can do with this knowledge. Rohr validates the notion that we survive and even thrive when we are able to find meaning in our experiences, especially our struggles.
When I read Rohr’s definitions of the “two halves of” or “tasks to” human life, I couldn’t wait to read more, as I felt a strong connection to his description of the “second half of life.” I quickly understood this to be likely in part because of my experience as a bereaved mother and other “necessary suffering” that I have faced in my life that led me to be able see people and things from a unique point of view. I think those who have lost a baby or a child of any age and/or who have struggled with infertility may appreciate and be able to relate to this “second half” way of thinking and living that is examined in Falling Upward.
I read Falling Upward on my Kindle and found myself constantly highlighting passages and making notes as I nodded my head in agreement with and appreciation for Rohr’s perspective on and theories about life and love. Early on Rohr explains,
Those who walk the full and entire journey are considered “called” or “chosen” in the Bible, perhaps “fated” or “destined” in world mythology and literature, but always they are the ones who have heard some deep invitation to “something more,” and set out to find it by both grace and daring. Most get little reassurance from others, or even have full confidences that they are totally right. Setting out is always a leap of faith, a risk in the deepest sense of the term, and yet an adventure too.
As a lifelong, open-minded, questioning and practicing catholic (the lower case “c” is intentional here), it didn’t take me long to see that Rohr, a catholic priest, and I have a lot in common when it comes to our faith. Though Falling Upward does talk a lot about Catholicism and Christianity, I think it has a broad appeal to those who believe and practice other religions, including but not limited to: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. Rohr touches on how each of these faith traditions have similarities and how we can learn from each other, especially when it comes to transitioning from the first to the second half of life as he discusses extensively in this book.
Rohr quotes some of my favorite writers and theologians in Falling Upward, including American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, widow and bereaved mother Paula D`Arcy and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. I have been moved and inspired by all of their writing over the years and when I saw that Rohr also feels strong connections to and even has personal relationships with most of them I was impressed.
As a bereaved mother of an eight year old, a two year old and a baby who left this world too soon (in April 2008), I also appreciated Rohr’s message to those responsible for helping to grow and shape the next generation,
We are not helping our children by always preventing them from what might be necessary falling, because you learn how to recover by falling! It is precisely byfalling off the bike many times that you eventually learn what the balance feels like….People who never allowed themselves to fall are actually off balance, while not realizing it at all. That is why they are so hard to live with.
In Falling Upward Rohr talks about some of main characteristics of “second half of life” living which include people’s ability to be patient, compassionate, inclusive, tolerant, understanding and forgiving. So much of Rohr’s description of “second half” spirituality makes so much sense and in some ways seems to come naturally to me, especially as someone who has suffered through years of secondary infertility and loss. As Rohr explains in this book, that is very common and why some younger adults find themselves “crossing over” earlier than most people who are yearning for and striving to be in this “second half” of their lives.
Something that struck me about this book and the concept of “second half” living is that getting there is not easy. Just because we feel drawn to a different way of living and treating others, doesn’t mean our journey will be seamless. Though I agree with just about everything Rohr presents in Falling Upward, certain aspects come more naturally to me than others, especially approaching the difficult relationships that I have with some people in my life and how to deal with them. However, Rohr has great wisdom to share about these interactions too:
Beauty or ugliness really is first of all in the eye of the beholder. Good people will mirror goodness in us, which is why we love them so much. Not-so-mature people will mirror their own unlived and confused life onto us, which why they confuse and confound us so much, and why they are hard to love…It is only those who respond to the real you, good or bad, that help you in the long run. Much of the work of midlife is learning to tell the difference between people who are still dealing with their issues through you and those who are really dealing with you as you really are.
I anticipate re-reading this book more than once in the future, as I digest and ponder all it has to offer. I highly recommend Falling Upward and would love to hear what you think about Rohr’s ideas and suggestions about “second half” living if and when you read it yourselves. To find out more about Falling Upward, Richard Rohr and his ministry visit http://cacradicalgrace.org/
Kathy Benson is Exhale’s Contributing Editor. Kathy is a Domestic Engineer with three children (two here and one in Heaven) trying to live mindfully and find joy in the journey after dealing with secondary infertility and pregnancy loss for over five years. She blogs at Bereaved and Blessed and you can follow her on Twitter @BereavedBlessed