Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Provocative phrases

Rohr employs some provocative phrases.  He writes of the tragic sense of life' that it is not, nor ever has been a straight line forward...Life is characterized much more by exception and disorder than by perfect order. Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time. Life seems to be a collision of opposites.  

This means that we all face situations that we cannot fix, control, change or even understand.  Such stumbling stones take us places where acquired knowledge or willpower cannot cope. Rather we need to grow beyond our resources and to surrender control. If we only attempt self-improvement in our own will-power we miss opportunities for real change in spiritual growth.

These stumbling stones are necessary suffering. by which we can grow by surrendering self-control. He describes this surrender as being 'out of the driver's seat for a while or we will never learn how to give up control to the real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. This kind of falling is what I mean by necessary suffering.

Second half-of-life wisdom comes from the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows you to see beyond your own shadow and disguise and to find who you are 'hidden with Christ in God' as Paul puts it (Col 3:3).

His conclusion says much about ageing. In the second half of life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught and led - which leads to 'choiceless choices.' These are the things you cannot not do because of what you have become, things you do not need to do because they are just not yours to do, and things you absolutely desire. Your driving motives are no longer money, success, or the approval of others. You have found your sacred dance.  

Now your only specialness is in being absolutely ordinary and even 'choiceless,' beyond the strong opinions, needs, preferences and demands of the first half of are happily participating in God's vision for you

Plenty to think about!

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Checks along the way

Early in his book Rohr emphasizes the need to check movement and direction in our lives, with two key insights: 

1) you can only see and understand the earlier stages of your life from the wider perspective of the later stages. Only when you can see past immaturities can you grow more mature!  Only by growing 'in wisdom, age and grace (Luke2:52) can you be patient and understanding of the previous stages. Mature people learn from their past. They do not create enemies and they are not either-or thinkers. As he puts it 'they bathe in the ocean of 'both-and".

2) from your own level of development you can only stretch yourself to comprehend people just a bit beyond yourself.. To sense the challenge of growing more mature by comparison.

The workbook journal asks us to reflect on our lives and ask whether we see deeper meaning in our youthful life experiences than when they were first happening. What changes do we feel called to make now that will free me up to living a larger life on behalf of the world.  I noted down details about my early stages of faith as a child, youth and student. Looking back I can see how fortunate I was in all the influences and God-incidences in my life. How much I owed God. But I also recognized how much my need for achievement and recognition was locked into even my faith journey.

Rohr's two insights remind me of a lunch when I was interim pastor of First Baptist Church, Wheaton, Illinois. An elderly couple had invited us to a meal in their home.  He and his wife were a sheer delight, showing great interest in us and our lives as newcomers to the church. Such care was shown. Only when he died a  very few years later, and at his thanksgiving service I saw the video of his own lifetime achievements, did it dawn on me.  What a gifted man with a mighty impressive portfolio!  As a missionary evangelist he had preached to thousands -a video showed him in action.  Impacting hundreds of lives he later become a denominational leader of note.  Yet, in his dealings with us (and everyone else), none of this was evident. He just shared love. His humility that had no need to parade his past set a high standard of spiritual challenge my own development. I have never forgotten that lunch. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Two halves

I was glad to see Bill's comment after my last post commending a book they profitably used on ageing. I must look it up. When it comes to books on this subject I suppose one of the best known is, Richard Rohr’s ‘Falling Upward - a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It's unusually wide in scope and not an easy read. The two halves of life was originally Carl Jung's idea. Rohr warns that the first half of life is the one that we all recognize and sadly some of us never move beyond.  It is the life when we establish our identity.  It's full of trying to make our mark, achieve what he calls a strong 'container' that is all about surviving successfully.  Our career, home, relationships, financial security are vital to who we are. But that's not all that matters.  

Rohr rightly sees that almost all of culture and even religious history has been invested in the creation of this first half of life.  And, of course, we do need to have boundaries, identity, safety and to feel special. To build ego-structures which need to be strong to contain the contents and contradictions later in life. 'You ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of your ego.'  

And, tragically, if there is no letting go the ego's need for affirmation, certitude and control we can never move into the second half of life.  His spiritual challenge is to discover our true self as we grow in our journey with God. This involves much uncertainty and things out of our control, stumbling over stumbling stones and necessary suffering as we learn who we truly are with him. It's a huge upheaval from the way we have lived earlier.  As he puts it ' a falling off of the very wagon that we constructed. No one would choose such upheaval consciously; we must somehow "fall" into it.'  It's all about learning more of God's grace - discovering what really counts to God in our weaknesses and lack of certainties as we go down in the second half before we go upward in God's love. 'Great love is always a discovery, a revelation, a wonderful surprise, a falling into 'something' much bigger and deeper that is literally beyond us and larger than us. 

There are many demanding ideas in his book. I remain challenged by his assertion that the first half of life is discovering the script and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.  I have used the companion journal to his book and need to mention a couple more things.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Yes...optimism helps


Reflecting a little more on ageing, is it true that those who write about ageing successfully are generally on the inside of the subject?  Some have breezed through their seventies (the so-called young old) and remain active in their eighties (the ‘old-old’).  They may never have suffered serious illness or, if they did, it is in the past.  Very significantly, they are active in mind.  No signs of any form of dementia.  Probably they are spared money worries and most importantly of all, they have relationships that give them pleasure - family, friends, neighbours, and church. A lively social network is widely regarded as essential for a satisfying life.  All these positives perhaps explain how they are able to write about ageing in the first place!  Writing requires a degree of determination and optimism.  

Research published in 2019 by the University of Boston connected levels of optimism with long life. The most optimistic men and women increased their lifespan by 11-15 percent.  They had 50-70 percent great odds of reaching the age of 85 compared with those in the less optimistic groups.  The study included many other factors such as chronic diseases, educational attainment, alcohol use, exercise and diet.  Research suggested that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behaviour and bounce back from stress and difficulties more easily.  The oldest man in Britain was interviewed recently and asked for his reason for his long life he attributed it to ‘being happy.’  ‘When I look at life I see things that make me happy’ he said, a big smile on his face.  Well, some of us want to say ‘Hurrah for optimists' bur what about those who have suffered serious illness, dementia and have not been spared money worries?  

I am acutely aware of those to whom life has not been kind and enter older age rather battered down, often through suffering.  What other things can be said?