A spirituality for the two halves of life
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use
code CT449 )
GROWING older is inevitable.
Growing up is optional. We in the West live in a first-half-of-life
culture, an adolescent society.
The "two halves of life" are
not about age, but about maturity. Many elderly people remain stuck
in first-half-of-life concerns, while some young people, notably
those who have learned from early suffering, are already in the
second half of life. Jesus was a second-half-of-life teacher,
speaking truths that his first-half-of-life hearers, then as now,
largely failed to understand.
Richard Rohr, an American
Roman Catholic Franciscan, writes with clarity and wisdom about the
sequencing, the tasks, and the direction of life's two "halves."
The book begins with a description of the necessary
first-half-of-life tasks. These include creating a sense of self
(ego-identity), setting boundaries, and learning to keep the rules.
This first journey is about externals, formulas, superficial
emotions, flags and badges, Bible quotes, absolute truth-claims,
and correct rituals. The first half of life is the time for ideals,
certainties, and dualistic, black-and-white thinking. In all these
ways we create (in Rohr's terms) a "container."
The second half of life is
about "falling upward". It involves painful change and growth in
order to discover the actual contents that the container was meant
to hold and deliver. This second journey is marked by an ability to
stretch or replace the container to hold tragedy, the legitimate
suffering that comes from being human, our shadow side, creative
tension, paradox, and what Jung calls "a collision of
elders carry a kind of gravitas, sadness, and seriousness, together
with a brightness, freedom, joy, and contentment. They are drawn
towards a more profound and less dogmatic faith, and to an
increasingly introverted, mystical, and contemplative
The institutional Churches,
Rohr argues, remain preoccupied with first-half-of-life issues. "We
have", he writes, "an entire generation of educators, bishops, and
political leaders who are still building their own personal towers
of success, and therefore have little ability to elder the young or
challenge the beginners." Perhaps that is why those on the second
journey often find the worship, preaching, and activities offered
in most churches increasingly frustrating and irrelevant to their
needs, desires, and visions, and move towards what some now call
Although, as he admits, this
is a dangerous book to have written, and open to much
misinterpretation, the author's integrity, wealth of knowledge, and
depth of faithful Christian discipleship shine out of every page.
Rohr is a true elder, a wise guide, who deserves to be widely
Canon Bruce Duncan was
the founding Principal of Sarum College.
FALLING UPWARD: A spirituality for the two halves of
life: A companion journal by Richard Rohr offers
quotations, questions for individual and group reflection, stories,
and suggestions for spiritual practices, to support those who wish
to pursue the agenda set out in Falling Upward (reviewed
above). The book provides two pages of ruled space for the reader
to use in response to each "journaling question" (SPCK, £9.99