Thursday, December 1, 2016

When Everything in Life Should be Highlighted

This week I am endorsing a book about getting older, gaining wisdom, and growing closer to God. The book is Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by the Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr who is with The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Before I read this book I had never fully appreciated or understood that there were two parts of life. You work hard when you're young and then you get to sit around in rocking chairs when you get old.
It's been strange for me - navigating this thing called "aging." I spent an awful lot of my early life obsessed with my "career", and "making it" as a mystery author. I am slowly letting go of that dream. And it's okay. I can finally say it's okay. This book helped me a lot. I highly recommend it to anyone who is on the other side of 50.

Our culture is obsessed with what Rohr calls, “first-half-of-life thinking.” Books, the web and magazines abound with self-help checklists–how to get ahead in your career, how to manage your money, how to chose the right spouse, how to prepare for your job interview. These are necessary. It’s good and important to set up house and home and family, but our culture revels in it to the detriment of “second-half-of-life thinking” which is about suffering, loss, giving, and the gaining of wisdom through these life experiences, and sharing.

In most all cultures—except our own—the aged are revered. It’s where we get the word “elder” from. I’m always amused when fresh-faced young missionary men come to the door wearing name tags which proclaim them as “elders,” and twenty-somethings are elected to the “elders” board at a church. Really?

We’ve gotten these things completely turned around in our thinking and and Rohr’s book attempts to set things right again.

Since I am a definitely a woman “of a certain age,” (or maybe even beyond—ahem), I found myself quite interested in his book and read it twice. I’m sure there will be more readings, for there is much to learn as I travel on this journey.

He explains something that most of us know - that is that when we are younger we see things in black and white—things are either “right” or “wrong.” And that’s it. We sometimes surprise ourselves when we are older and things become more nuanced, more gray, more light, more shadows, more bright spots. The elderly person who continues to see things in black and white only, is still lodged in “first half of life thinking.”

As I went through this book I began highlighting portions of it as I read. Now with me, I’m not actually highlighting with a pen. Lately I’ve been read most of my eBooks either on my large-size iPhone or on my Kobo eReader. With both, I have the ability to “highlight.” But it got rather ridiculous when there was so much good information that I found myself highlighting every single page. 

I'll share a few random quotes and thoughts and things I learned from Falling Upward:

-He writes: “The first half of life is discovering the script and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.” Or more simply, the first half of life is building and the second half is living.

-Rohr admits that it’s quite possible to live your whole life and never get past “first-half-of-life” thinking. The movie Grumpy Old Men  comes to mind. Grumpiness, as well as clinging to the first-half-of-life achievements and possessions - yes, it is quite possible to grow old and not to be wise. I think of King Midas in Greek mythology hoarding his gold to himself, or Gollum’s My Precious in Lord of the Rings.

Rohr writes,

The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way or we will not move further. Why would we? 

- I remember a poster I once saw - He who dies with the most toys wins. Rohr would characterize this as first-half of life thinking for sure. The wise person sees no need for “toys” whether physical accumulations or the black and white emotions which characterize youth. The wise person will give all his toys away. Not necessarily the physical things - although those, too - but the spiritual things gleaned and learned through the suffering of growing older, the experience of death, of loneliness, of failing health.

-He calls the path to this growth a “downward path.” I found this to be quite different than all the first-half-of-life self help where one is to strive to make it up the ladder of success. True spiritual growth comes from going down the ladder, falling off of it at times, and maybe staying at the bottom rung and helping those who are stuck there. The Bible seems to echo this:

 He who gains his life shall lose it. This biblical advice runs counter to everything we are taught in our culture.

-You cannot grow up until you have experienced weakness, until you know what it is to suffer. 

It is when I am weak that I am strong - 2 Corinthians 12:10 

I’m currently reading another book which is reminding me very much of Falling Upward, and that book is The Time of Your Life by Margaret Trudeau. She is the mother of our prime minister here in Canada and during the 1970s was married to our then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau. A week ago I heard her speak here at our local university. She is an amazing and gracious woman who has struggled most of her life with mental illness. She says that she didn’t really “find” her life until she was over 50, and Rohr would maintain, that’s just about right. At some point I will be reviewing The Time of Your Life for this blog.

I will end with this quote from Rohr’s book:

Once your life has become a constant communion, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing—life itself—which can actually become a constant intentional prayer. Your conscious and loving existence gives glory to God.

An ancient native American proverb says that “No wise person ever wanted to be younger.”

IN TWO WEEKS: More mystery with The Long and Far Away Gone by Lou Berney

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