Minister's Letter - April 2019

Dear friends,

One of my favourite writers on spirituality is Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest, who works in the USA, and founded the Centre for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. He and his work have become very popular in recent years, and many people come to it via a daily blog that the centre sends out. They’re well-worth reading and can be found at: Meditations@cac.org. One of his most influential books is Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, and it was published in 2011. I read it soon after it was published, and at the time put it aside. It didn’t speak to me. A couple of years later, after being off work for an operation and developing chronic fatigue, it made more sense.

The theory behind the book is that our spiritual lives can be broadly divided into two halves. Our pre-occupation during the first half of our lives is establishing our identity, getting a job, finding a life partner, having children and becoming financially secure. In these years, “we have little time for simply living, pure friendship, useless beauty”, because we’re focusing on creating a proper “container for one’s life” and “successfully surviving”. The task in the second half of life is “to find the … contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver... [Because] the container is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of your deeper and fullest life”. Both are necessary. One isn’t better than the other. But because the society in which we live pays less attention to our spiritual lives, and churches seem to have more and more difficulties in helping people move from the first to the second half of life, many people never get to the second part or find it through art or poetry or alternatives to faith.

The reason I returned to the book in the light of my illnesses is that Rohr suggests that the transition from the first to second half of life is triggered by a crisis. For example, a loss of some sort or other, illness, the death of someone close, or the loss of a job. This is what he calls “falling upward”. Because this can happen at any age, and can make young people wiser than their years, his theory has nothing to do with chronological age. If this sounds a little too neat and tidy, he’s clear that the transition takes time, and that both halves will sit within us, alongside each other, until the great loss of death. This isn’t the place to tell you about my own experience, but illnesses took me to a place that I did not recognise, and challenged things I thought I knew. For me, it was the crisis that brought Rohr’s writing on this alive, and enabled me to recognise what was happening. One of the things I’ve discovered since then is that the transition from first to second half of life spirituality isn’t only caused by an external crisis. It can also be caused by our faith changing over time, as we practise discipleship, prayer and reflection.

So, you might ask, why am I telling you this now? There are three reasons.

First, I want to talk about this more at the General Church Meeting on 10th April, and it’ll be helpful for you to have some background. I want to reflect on how this theory might help us think about our future.

Second, I think it helps us to understand the context in which we practise our faith and share in the life of the Church in 2019. Richard Rohr suggests that Western society is largely a first-half of life culture, and Jesus’ call to “pick up your cross and follow me” is in stark contrast to this. As we continue through Lent and into Holy Week, we become ever-more aware that how we live as Christ’s disciples speaks of our commitment to the fullness of life he longs for all people to know.

Third, I’d like to invite you to look at your own life, to wonder where you are and what spiritual practices you use to deepen your faith. Remember I said that both halves of life, as well as the crisis, are necessary. So, this is not an invitation to beat yourself up, or compare yourself with others!

As you continue on your journey deeper into the darkness of Lent and Holy Week, and emerge into the light of the resurrection, may you be blessed. Sue