Book review: Author offers guidance for growing up as we age

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life Richard Rohr Jossey-Bass, 2013

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
Richard Rohr
Jossey-Bass, 2013

By Dede Roberts
Special Contributor

“Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.”
—Maya Angelou

Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, offers a pathway for Christians who want to grow up instead of just age. It is filled with insights, advice, personal stories and sometimes startling interpretations of Scripture. When I began reading it, I found it hard to put down. I also found myself reading some parts more than once, because I wanted to hear what God was saying to me through the words on the page.

Fr. Rohr, a Franciscan priest, is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M., and a sought-after speaker and author.

“Falling Upward” is Rohr’s term for the necessary journey each of us must make through failure and loss to become grace-filled followers of Christ. He describes our lives in two halves. In the first half we are building our lives, aimed at success, learning about our gifts and shaping our reputation and place in the world. However, at some point or points along the way, we will experience loss or failure or suffering, and those experiences of “falling upward” lead us to a deeper life of understanding, patience, hope and even joy.

Rohr contends that many issues we face in the world and in the church are a result of our trying to live only in the first half of our lives. Our culture worships youthfulness, blames the victims of suffering, idolizes the successful and denies death. Therefore, it robs us of the gifts and wisdom that come through falling into the second half of life, where we can learn to integrate aging, suffering, failure and even our mortality into our lives.

To illustrate his contention, he offers examples of church “wars” about worship styles, human sexuality and dogma. He also discusses dis-ease in our culture where issues of race, poverty and gender are splintering us into rigid categories of haves and have nots.

The church has the key to integrating the halves of our lives and healing the culture. Jesus showed us the way through his suffering, death and resurrection. The truth of falling upward is in the Gospel, if we have the courage to receive it. Rohr writes, “…the best word for God is actually MYSTERY.” God is faithful to move us forward. God’s desire is to transform us. God will not waste a single experience in helping us become the people we have been created to be.

Through his engaging style, Rohr invites those of us in the second half of our lives to consider the aches and pains of both body and soul as gift, even the means by which God is forming us into the likeness of Christ.

In my own work in spiritual formation I use the definition offered by Dr. Robert Mullholland: “Spiritual Formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Falling Upward confirmed this working definition again and again. Only those who are willing to lose themselves will find themselves (Matthew 10:39). Our true lives are hidden with God in Christ (Col. 3:3). The grain must fall to earth to produce life (John 12:24). In our old age we will be led where we do not wish to go (John 21:18).

Such are the mysteries of the Christian life. Falling Upward reveals and helps explain them, and so it is a guidebook that encourages us to grow and not just age.

The Rev. Roberts serves as the director of the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality.