Thursday, July 14, 2011

Falling Upward

"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." 
––Carl Jung, in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche

Because my spiritual direction coursework doesn't start until September, I thought I'd fill in the time between now and then with occasional random reflections on things I find interesting, in the hope that you'll find them interesting, as well.  Tonight's random reflection has to do with a book I've been reading by Richard Rohr called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass; 2011).

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who, according to one of the accolades printed in the front of the book, "has gathered innumerable luminous jewels of wisdom during a liftetime of wrestling with self, soul, God, the church, the ancient sacred stories of initiation and its modern realities, and the wilder and darker dimensions of the human psyche."  I have a great affinity for fellow wrestlers with God, and an even greater affinity for wrestlers who are able to describe and make sense of their struggles, so I'm enjoying my time with Father Rohr.

I learned about this Father Rohr from Sister Josita, my spiritual director at Quellen, who told me a few months ago she thought I was "ready" to read him.  She recommended I check out The Naked Now, and in the process of ordering that book on I came across Falling Upward and ordered it, as well.  I'm glad I did.

The basic premise of Falling Upward is that there are two halves of life.  The first half of life is consumed with creating the "container," or self, for one's life (i.e., "What makes me significant? How can I support myself? Who will go with me?"), while the second half of life has more to do with finding the contents that your "container," or self, is meant to hold.

What I find interesting about this process is that the original container has to undergo significant change in order to accommodate the contents of the second half of life.  In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus explains to the disciples that new wine is not put in old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled.  The new wine, instead, is put into new wineskins, so that both wine and wineskin are preserved (Matthew 9:17).

As it is with wineskins, so it is with us.  Our old selves, our first-half-of-life selves, are not made to hold what the second half of life brings. What is needed for the second half of life is a new container, a new self, a self that builds upon the structure of the old self, but a self which is stronger and won't burst when filled.

What this means for us, practically speaking, is that we have to leave behind the our old selves as we grow in faith.  Life, success, security, "looking good" to others––all of these things are first-half-of-life tasks that diminish in importance as we begin to explore the richness of filling ourselves with God.  It can be very painful to give these things up, but if we want to grow we must.  The spiritual journey is never about preserving our containers, but is instead about learning how to use our containers to serve God and neighbor.  Too great a focus on self can get in the way of us receiving the grace God offers to guide us.

How do we know if we're growing spiritually?  According to Father Rohr, the hallmarks of spiritual growth are forgiveness, compassion, and radical inclusivity, as well as the emergence of "both/and" thinking over "either/or" thinking.

Or, as Jesus might describe it, love (Matthew 22:27-29).

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