Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr

fallingupwardI started this book a long time ago, having found the excerpts and quotes from Rohr’s work that I read in other people’s writing but never having read a whole book by him. Falling Upward took me a really long time to get into, and I think it was largely because I had trouble relating to his thesis. He seems to be suggesting that most people’s lives follow a typical pattern in which we spend the first half of life building up a strong self-image in the eyes of the world, establishing a reputation, building a career, and then in the second half of life loss, failure or tragedy take apart that strong public image, and we have to embrace a spirituality of brokenness. While I think this pattern is true for some people, it’s hardly normative for the whole human race (particularly given that none of us even knows what is going to turn out to be the half-way point in our lives).

I didn’t feel I could really relate to this template, not least because I haven’t yet experienced any major or shattering loss, and by any account I’m more than halfway through my most ambitious hopes for a lifespan. But later in the book, I did begin to relate a bit, because he talks about how our faith and spirituality changes in later life, and how for many people there is a loss of certainty, but that doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a loss of faith. This, I can relate to, because I was much more certain about everything religious when I was under 30; after that time I began questioning many things it had never occurred to me to question before. I like Rohr’s idea that people of mature faith become more open, more tolerant, more accepting of others’ views and less dogmatic about their own. More comfortable with uncertainty. This is certainly what I am striving towards, what I hope for in my later years.

But even there, I found myself questioning Rohr’s generalizations. I know older people of faith who are deeply rooted in their beliefs and seem to have a rich and genuine relationship with God, yet who have not become more tolerant and open to questions. I simply don’t think it’s automatic that greater spiritual depth and maturity leads inevitably to a more liberal approach to truth — even though I with that were so. But Rohr is a thought-provoking writer even when I don’t fully agree with him.

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