Fr. Richard Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The mission as stated on the Center’s website: The Center for Action and Contemplation seeks to empower individuals to live out their sacred soul tasks in service to the world through educational programs and resources. I am not a practicing Christian and do not the read the Bible much, yet I find Fr. Rohr’s teachings relevant and inspiring in a non-evasive way, i.e. I don’t have the sense he is trying to recruit me to become a Christian, but is sharing with me valuable information.
According to Fr. Rohr and central to his teachings, there are the two halves in life. He presents his well-regarded book Falling Upward as a guide book for the initiate on the journey to the second half of life. In the first half of life we are preoccupied with building a career, family, status or in Fr. Rohr’s words “success, security and containment.” The second half begins for most people when middle aged and is about actualizing the spiritual blueprint given to us when we are born. According to Fr. Rohr, many elderly people grow old without initiating this second half, but remain preoccupied by how they fared by first half standards. Father Rohr calls this never getting to the content of one’s own life.
Fr. Rohr writes: “It is fine for teenagers to really think that there is some moral or ‘supernatural’ superiority to their chosen baseball team, their army, their ethnic group, or even their religions; but one hopes they learn that such polarity thinking is recognized as just an agreed upon game by the second half of life. Your frame should grow larger as you move toward the Big Picture in which one God creates all and loves all, both Dodgers and Yankees, blacks and whites, Palestinians and Jews, Americans and Afghanis“ (Falling Upward, p. 149).
As the book’s title Falling Upward asserts, getting initiated into the second half requires a fall. Father Rohr: “by denying their pain, avoiding the necessary falling, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual depths—and therefore have kept from their spirituals heights.” The second half of life’s journey is shielded in secrecy “probably because we do not want to see it. We do not want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down, especially when we have put so much sound and fury into going up” (Falling Upward, Introduction, p xix).
Two types of people he cites as having difficulty taking the fall into the second half are the very rich or (ironically) the very religious. The instigator in me might say about the very rich – trust that donations to worthy causes would help get the journey going(!), but Fr. Rohr is focused on internal processes to guide the individual to his or her own sacred place and rightly so.
Rohr speaks of gender identity in thought-provoking ways that make sense. In a Huffington Post article, Gender-God-and-Spirituality, Rohr discusses spiritual development from a gender identification perspective. He writes of True Encounter with God as: “that point God takes over and gives the male or female soul what only God knows it needs. Gender cues and biases are now impediments” and “Gender issues fade into the background, while we ourselves become more androgynous.”
Fr. Rohr’s teachings bring home a great neglect of our society is that we have rare public conservation going on about the value of this second half of life. It is worth pondering if western failure to communicate the value of this second half can explain, in part, the emphasize placed on mass surveillance (security) and why we are not protected as a culture from the repercussions of extreme hoarding of wealth. Fr. Rohr is clear that to be initiated into the second half requires completing the first half. He writes “to build your house well is, ironically, to be nudged beyond its doors.” (Falling Upward, p. 23).
He cautions early adopters to take care of the secrets they learn. A quote from the Bible: “Do not give to dogs what is holy; throw your pearls before swine. They will trample them and then they will turn on your and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). When wise authority has not established a foothold in society, the teachings of prophetic or wise people are interpreted as dangerous foolishness. Pairings Fr. Rohr cites involved in this difficult scenario are Sermon on the Mount to Christians, Gandhi to Great Britain and Martin Luther King Jr. to white America (Falling Upward, p. 12).
Fr. Rohr: “The language of the first half of life and the language of the second half of life are almost two different vocabularies, known only to those who have been in both of them. The advantage of those on the further journey is that can still remember and respect the first language and task. They have transcended but also included all that went before. In fact, if you cannot include and integrate the wisdom of the first half of life, I doubt if you have moved into the second.” (Falling Upward, Introduction, xxvii-xxviii).
I confess I by no means have made it through to the second half of life. Yet those of us still in the first half, or taking their knocks on the journey (hopefully) to the second, can still share their gratitude for those who made it to the second, as well as help develop a dialogue to bridge the two halves, however far we get. Yet to write “however far we get” sounds almost unacceptable because how can one accept, when aware of if, not experiencing the second half? That the journey is a secret one, its contents carefully protected and yet the benefits must be shared with those not initiated, evokes to my mind the riddle of the Sphinx. What strength Oedipus’ elder “on three legs” had to possess, the murderous Sphinx threw her head against rocks and died–Oedipus’s right answer including humans walk with a cane the final stage of life.
While Rohr is a Franciscan priest he cites not only from the Bible, but several religious texts, as well as poetry, to make his points. His openness to obtaining wisdom from spiritual viewpoints other than Christianity attests to genuine spiritual insight. The Center for Action and Contemplation has a two year program, called the Living School, where individuals can spend two years in course study to cultivate a contemplative mind in order to move into the second half of life successfully. One has to apply to get in, and while the tuition is reasonably priced, participants would have to be able to afford two years not working. I imagine filling out the application to attend (cost $50) is thought provoking in itself.
It is interesting Rohr says halves of life versus stages when I imagine many people discover the second half in their 50’s. Does “two halves” come from the expectation we live to be 100 or more a comment that the second half is in commune with mystery, etching away (so to speak) at obstacles based of the feebleness of the body as we gradually become one with our maker and the universe?