Richard Rohr and the Two Halves of Life


(presented in Straub Park on Sunday, July 21, in response to Max’s Father’s Day talk, which is forthcoming)

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, author and scholar. He was ordained in 1970  in the Roman Catholic Church and is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.

In Rohr’s recent book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, he identifies two segments of life — the first half, in which we “build our container,” and the second, in which we “find the contents” to fill our container.

Rohr’s first half of life has much to do with learning to follow prescribed laws, be they ethical structures, physical laws like gravity, etc. and has everything to do with studying (or worse yet, mimicking) existing traditions.

The second half of our lives then, is when we perfect the art of winnowing, of extracting the grain from the chaff. It’s when we practice the art of spiritual discernment, or separating the essentials from the nonessentials. It is when we find our grace — when we surrender and awaken to spirit. When we realize that we’ve been Spirit all along.

We do a lot of studying, reading and learning in the first half of life, while we’re building that container. But we rarely go back and reinterpret those lessons from a second-half-of-life perspective to see which structures we really need and which we can let go of. It’s quite possible that the scaffolding has been on the building long enough, that the training wheels can be uncoupled from the tires. And when we step into ourselves — getting current in that way — we may find that letting go of those crutches or braces allows for a new range of motion or a new method of feeling or intuition.

We may even find that we no longer need or believe the things that were shown to us as children. Or that our own wisdom may actually contradict some of what we think we know.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

The Buddha said, “Don’t believe anything I say unless it matches your experience.” But, a statement like that is mere cognitive dissonance to someone who is still building that “container.” They just don’t know where to put it.

If Rohr is correct, then it seems the second part of our lives is when we realize that it’s more important to give love and understanding than to receive it.

Paul’s famed first letter to the Corinthians is an example of a second-half-of-life teaching. He had been traveling on pilgrimage, spreading the gospel of Jesus, and in his absence, the church at Corinth had slipped back into their old ways. Not just pagan practices, but sexual and ethical transgressions, gossiping, internal struggles for power, etc. Paul’s letter to the clergy at Corinth is an attempt to re-establish the core ministry of Jesus Christ, as revealed to Paul.

Among the oft-quoted and time-tested passages in Corinthians, is this:

“I may speak in tongues of men or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.”

Corinthians 13:1-3, read from the second half of life, clearly illustrates the “spiritual gift” of love. Unfortunately, as Rohr points out, it was an unsuccessful attempt. Consider how history might be different if the church had implemented the core teachings of Jesus instead of using the religion to control the masses.

The problem with religion is that most institutions of religion don’t support higher developmental structures. They don’t encourage personal unfolding — moving away from the center to reconnect directly to source.

Consider this excerpt from Falling Upward:

“We now know from schematas like Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory that it is next to impossible for institutions as institutions to operate in the second-half-of-life mode. The best you can do is to protect individuals who are maturing inside of them, which should ideally be the role of wise church leadership: to protect and foster growth toward God even if it means that individuals move beyond or outside their own group. A rare phenomenon, it seems to me, but have you ever noticed how often Jesus tells people to “stand up, and go on your way.” He is into discipleship much more than group belonging. He is into journey more than mere stability. Few have had that kind of maturity or authority, because most of history up to now has been at the tribal and group level of consciousness.”

BONUS VIDEO (Richard Rohr  presenting at Texas Lutheran University):

About Joran Slane Oppelt

Author, Musician, Interfaith Minister, Chaplain, Public Speaker, Event Producer, Marketing Professional, Husband, Father - Not necessarily in that order. Follow me on Twitter @joranslane. View all posts by Joran Slane Oppelt

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