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

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of LifeTakeaway: Maturing is not a straight line and it does not automatically come with growing old.

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition (Kindle available now, paperback is a pre-order for April 19, 2011)

Today is my birthday so I thought it appropriate to read and review a book that is primarily about how to age better. I must admit I was a bit put off of this book when I first started. Rohr is a Catholic priest and it took a while for me to sink into his vocabulary and understand how he was using his words.

After I picked it up again a week or so later. I started to see a spirituality that was formed by story in a way somewhat akin to Donald Miller. The 30 page intro is rough going no matter how you look at it. But once you get to the early chapters where Rohr uses the story of Odyssius to explain his point I was hooked.

The key insight is that the modern world tricks us into thinking growth (and meaning) is a straight line. Rohr, who has also written about spriritual direction, male initiation rites, mystic spirituality and other topics, seems well prepared for a book about maturity. This book is not so much about aging as it is about learning how to see our own growth and life as a journey and not a particular destination.

I am familiar with his use of the word myth, a story meant to explain the big issues and not a false story as some use the word, and I appreciate how he walks us through a variety of stories and ways that people of different faiths understand meaning. (But I think this will be a point where some people are put off. Listen to the whole point about myth and do not be put off by the word.)

During one chapter on the Tragedy of Life he has the provocative quote “Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God’s own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants with us.” I know that many will object to this characterization, but in context it is clear that Rohr is trying to establish that God loves us as individuals not as a system he is trying to fix.

A reoccurring theme of the book is that the first half of life is about learning the rules and the second half is about learning when it is appropriate to break the rules. Rohr is not anti-establishment, he thinks establishment is important, but it is also important to understand when establishment is a hindrance, and when you can appropriately see that, you have entered the second stage of life.

The insights of this book are not just for Christians, Rohr bends over backwards to make it accessible. But in the end, it is about using his Christian faith to illuminate what he has learned from modern psychology, anthropology and organizational behavior theory to then ‘give new vocabulary to Jesus’ transcendent message’. So this book may feel a little ‘new age-y’ but that is because it is intentionally using the vocabulary of modern social science, eastern religions and western literature and poetry to give new insight to orthodox Christianity.

He summarizes much of the book in a few thoughts about 2/3rd in. 1) We are created with a drive that sends us looking (for God). 2) That journey is not a straight line. 3) The ‘God sized hole’ has been intentionally created so that only Grace and divine love can satisfy it. 4) God is found in the depths, and the superficial is where sin and addiction trap us. 5) We find the ‘something real’ in all religions because they speak of heaven or nirvana or something similar. We can live a glimpse of that now, but the glimpse is a glimpse of God.

This still seems very new age-y as I am writing it. But the rightness of it seems to be based on the reality of Jesus Christ death and resurrection and the real loss and suffering that Rohr says that is required for us to get to the second level of maturity. These are not 5 easy steps. These are the real, two steps forward, one step back that we all know are a part of the sinful world that we live in. Aging is hard work. But the way Rohr speaks of it I look forward to it. And I am hopeful, because whatever age I am, at least this far in life, I have thought was the best part of life.

I look forward to being an elder. Not to boss people around or gain respect, but because I want to help people live better and learn from the mistakes I have make. Life is about sharing and that is probably the thing I am most hopeful about from ‘Falling Upward.
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This book was provided by Amazon.com through their Vine Review program.  As part of my policy I give away all review books.  If you want it, let me know in the comments.  First come first serve.

3 Comments

Thanks for the review. I am a huge Richard Rohr fan. Messages are not always easy – but sense he is right on target. I just celebrated a major birthday – and so think this is good reading for me. Were you suggesting that you would give away the book? Happy to receive it if that is true and it is still available. Thanks. Adrienne

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