In Falling Upward, Fr. Richard Rohr seeks to help readers understand the tasks of the two halves of life and to show them that those who have fallen, failed, or “gone down” are the only ones who understand “up.” Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling down can largely be experienced as “falling upward.” In fact, it is not a loss but somehow actually a gain, as we have all seen with elders who have come to their fullness.
Explains why the second half of life can and should be full of spiritual richness
Offers a new view of how spiritual growth happens?loss is gain
Richard. Rohr is a regular contributing writer for Sojourners and Tikkun magazines
This important book explores the counterintuitive message that we grow spiritually much more by doing wrong than by doing right–a fresh way of thinking about spirituality that grows throughout life.
What do you mean by the two halves of life?
The phrase “two halves of life” was first popularized by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist. He says that there are two major tasks. In the first half [of life] you’ve got to find your identity, your significance; you create your ego boundaries, your ego structure, what I call “the creating of the container.” But that’s just to get you started. In the second half of life, once you’ve created your ego structure, you finally have the courage to ask: What is this all for? What am I supposed to do with this? Is it just to protect it, to promote it, to defend it, or is there some deeper purpose? The search for meaning is the task of the second half of life. (This is not always a chronological matter – I’ve met 11 year-old children in cancer wards who are in the second half of life, and I have met 68 year-old men like me who are still in the first half of life.)
Why is the “further journey” of the second half of life especially important for people of faith who are seeking a deeper relationship with God?
I think the further journey has to be clarified especially for religious people because for the most part we’ve pushed off the journey into the next world. We’ve made the teaching of Jesus largely into an evacuation plan for the next world so we don’t have to take this world seriously, this life, this earth, what’s happening right here or now. The further journey has to happen in this world. I wrote the book because I want to say the further journey happens in this world and then you’re ready for heaven. You’re living in heaven now, you’re practicing for heaven and so heaven is not even a big change of venue. It’s a continuation of what you’ve already begun to experience.
What do you mean when you say, “we grow by falling down”?
You know, when I chose the title of Falling Upward I thought that surely there would be six other books with that title. Believe it or not, there weren’t. I thought it was a perfect title because it conveys a sense of paradox. The first part of the title (about falling) isn’t about what you expect. In fact, most of our concern in the first half of life is about rising, achieving, accomplishing, performing. I tried deliberately to use a somewhat shocking or controversial phrase, implying that there is a necessary falling that comes into every life. It’s not like you have to manufacture or create the falling; it will happen. If you can find grace or freedom in and through that falling, you find that it moves you forward, upward, broader, deeper, better—to growth. That’s just the opposite of what you first think when you fall, fail, or lose.
What is so important about the idea of necessary suffering? Why is it necessary?
The question of why is suffering necessary is probably the greatest and most problematic question in Christian theology. Why is there suffering? How is God good if there’s so much suffering on this Earth? There’s no answer that appeals to the rational mind. The answer lies elsewhere; I’m going to therefore start with the psychology. Carl Jung and many others said that suffering is the only thing strong enough to defeat the imperial ego. In other words, when you’re in control, in charge, looking good, building your tower of success — which is what you expect a young person to be doing into their 30s — you get so addicted to it that you think it’s the only game in town. When that game falls apart, it’s because it’s largely a self-constructed game, a game at which you can look good, you can succeed, you’re building your own kingdom, which is not, in Christian language, what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, so your little kingdom usually has to fail you. It has to fall apart. It has to, or you’ll remain narcissistic, egocentric well into your later years, asking questions like what makes me feel good? What makes me look good? What makes me make money? Many people do. It might feel like success, but no spiritual teacher would agree. First half of life preoccupations won’t get you into the great picture, the big picture, which Jesus would call the Reign of God. So, necessary suffering is whatever it takes to make your small self fall apart, so you can experience your big self–maybe what Buddhists would say is your Buddha self. We would say your Christ self, your God self. It doesn’t really matter. You can tell people who have passed over from the first to the second half of life, usually you can tell it within the first ten minutes, whether someone is still building their tower of success. And that isn’t even wrong; it’s just they have something else to experience, and you pray for them and you hope that they will be able to see suffering as a doorway and not an obstacle when it happens.