The title of the reflective piece may suggest spirituality and sports. They may be related, but that is not my intention. Actually, the idea for this piece came in an extended article I found yesterday at cnn.com. Now that in and of itself is a little unusual. One typically does not find spirituality articles at CNN. Certainly, one usually does not find spirituality articles being highlighted on the home page. But that was the case with some extended thoughts from Richard Rohr.
My eyes lit up when I saw Rohr’s name. He is one of my favorite contemporary writers on spirituality. I routinely use a couple of his books in my classes. And he has been a provocative help to me in my own spiritual growth and development. Even so, I was not quite prepared for the title of the CNN article: “Priest pens spiritual survival guide for recession.” I learned soon, however, as I read into the article that it was a kind of announcement and commentary on Rohr’s new book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. This obviously explains the title of my own reflective piece. I found some helpful ideas as I read the article.
Rohr is a Catholic, Franciscan priest who is virtually my age. Of course, that makes him still young, vigorous and full of life---well, sometimes anyway! A quotation from Rohr immediately grabbed my attention. He says, “There always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand.” No doubt, every person as old as Rohr or myself can already attest to this fact. We know that these kinds of experiences can knock us down. But Rohr says, as the title of his book advocates, we can learn from the experience and get back to a decent place. As he says, we can learn to “fall upward.”
I was fascinated by the next observation made by Rohr. He asserts that “much of contemporary religion is geared toward teaching people how to navigate the first half of their lives, when they’re building careers and families.” This Rohr labels a “goal-oriented” spirituality. I am not sure people in the age teen to thirty-five age group would agree with Rohr, but I get his point.
Essentially, this is a book for those of us in our second half of life. At l east at that point, most of us know we are not always going to “win”---even if we usually were “winners” most of the time early on in life. And obviously, those kind of lucky people are fewer than we probably think. I am sure Rohr is correct: we all will fall---probably already have fallen numerous times. And in our current economic times, there are falls all around us: jobs lost, retirement funds blasted, insecurities rampant, etc. What’s to do?
Basically, Rohr offers some timeworn wisdom. But it nevertheless resonates with me. There was a good line that jumped out at me. Rohr says, “You start drawing from your life within…You learn to distinguish from the essential self and the self that’s window dressing.” I like the idea of drawing from your life within. I find it important that Rohr does not assume the “stuff” from the life within is all good, positive, and wonderful. Surely, a good bit of life within all of us is not so good, less than positive, and often not wonderful. But it is the “stuff” of life and we can and need to learn from it.
If we made mistakes in the past, that is some of the “stuff” within. We do not have to repeat those mistakes! If we discover we have a bad attitude, that is more “stuff.” We are not condemned by God to have a bad attitude forever. But we can condemn ourselves! Again, I like Rohr’s summary statement. “Those who break through the crisis and lose their false selves become different people: less judgmental, more generous and better able to ignore “evil or stupid things.”
This is the kind of person I want to be. I know I still have “stuff” that gets in my way. But my game of life is not over, that I know. I am in the second half, that is for sure! But I am still playing. Rohr gives me a picture of hope of what may be. “I’ve seen that in the wonderful older people in my life,” Rohr says. “There’s a kind of gravitas they have. … There’s an easy smile on their faces. These are the people who laugh, who heal, who build bridges, who don’t turn bitter.”
I have not seen Rohr’s new book, but already the words in this CNN article give me hope and some help. Most of all, it gives me a renewed sense that “second half living” is not my own game to make whatever I can before the buzzer blows, my game is over, and I am pronounced dead. Actually, there is a graceful God in play with me. And I am sure I have some valued teammates always ready to help. Sometimes they even carry me for those periods when I don’t know what I am doing…or am not up to what I could be doing.
Unlike a basketball game, the clock is ticking, but we do not know how much time there is in the second half; our lives are open-ended. Even if we have only one more day, we can make a difference in our lives and in other lives. And what more do we have than one more day? Only today can I live. I will do it spiritually!