Falling Upward

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,They shall run and not be weary,They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 30-31 (NKJV)

Father Richard Rohr’s new book, Falling Upward (Jossey-Bass, 2011), examines the two stages of life. He calls them “first half” and “second half,” although they don’t conform to that bisected organization. As we all know, many people never leave the first half.

According to Father Rohr, the first half of life is consumed with nailing down our “personal (or superior) identify, creating various boundary markers…, seeking security, and perhaps linking to what seem like significant people or projects.”

The second stage is the quiet and peaceful place beyond strength, speed, volume, reputation, self-assurance, and ME. It is the place of finally letting go of falseness and finding the freedom to fall. When we do, we find that we fall up!

Although Rohr does not quote Isaiah 40:30-31, for me that famous passage mirrors the message of Falling Upward. In the second stage, we find our true strength in waiting on the Lord. To “renew strength” is to “exchange strength:”ours for His.

I must admit that the first five chapters struck me as almost insufferable; it was like listening to hours of sitar music while drunk-gazing at a dripping faucet.

But, then on page 77 of the chapter, Necessary Suffering, Rohr wrote, “Creation itself, the natural world, already ‘believes’ the Gospel, and lives the pattern of death and resurrection…Most of nature seems to totally accept major loss, gross inefficiency, mass extinctions, and short life spans as the price of it all.”

He had me at “creation believes the gospel.”

Then, Rohr becomes like a fine old viola in the final 40 pages of the book. So rich and vibrant and melodic. At 65, I hear, taste, touch, see, and sniff most of life in the deeper register. In those forty pages, Rohr spoke straight to my heart.

Consider a few of his observations about the second half. I resonate so deeply with every line:

  • “…it is good just to be a part of the general dance. We do not have to stand out, make defining moves, or be better than anyone else on the dance floor. Life is more participatory than assertive, and there is no need for strong or further self-definition.”
  • “God is no longer small, punitive, or tribal. They once worshipped their raft; now they love the shore where it has taken them. They once defended signposts; now they have arrived where the signs pointed.”
  • “…we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us. We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves.”
  • “…your self-image is nothing more than just that, and not worth protecting, promoting, or denying.”
  • “…most of us have to hit some kind of bottom before we even start the real spiritual journey. Up to that point, it is mostly religion.”
  • “Today, I often find this receptive soil more outside of churches than within, many of which have lost that necessary ‘beginner’s mind’ both as groups and as individuals.”

And, this, near the end, serves as a fine summary of the book:

“Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of physical life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.”

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