This is the sort of book that you want to give to all of your family members who have reached the age of 45.
The author captures the way Western society works, with its focus on the first half of people's lives. This percipient sociological analysis is just a starting point for his exploration of the second half of life.
As an aside, our obsession on the first half of life is growing stronger -- we care about courtship, career choice, finding a mate, establishing ourselves, and this is the subject that too many 60 year old people worry at, fantasize over, concentrate on, well past the day that they should let this half of their lives go... and think about the second half.
In this second half, people know they will suffer, that they will enter the "shadowlands", that this part of life can be about suffering and diminution. This author outlines how this half of life can be about joy, about falling upward in a spiritual sense, about the second half of life being about opening yourself. A book like this can help center a reader on the need to get past embarrassment, get past a concern for the material, and begin to understand what faces you, and what you are...
There is God in this book, and the book is frank about being a guidebook, a road map, towards salvation. That is inherent in the entire theme, the idea that a second half of life, with travails, can open to something more.
So many people I know are concerned with retirement, but not what to do in retirement, about a lake home, but not a better self... There is a sense that an obsession with retirement, in this second half, will then relegate health problems, money problems, pain, the death of friends.. into painful shocks. This book tells you that these painful days can be something more, a new journey.
Well written, with a gentle, funny, and open style, this is a book that actually can change your life.
Age old questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? How can I survive the death of my loved one, the sickness of my child, or my pending divorce? "Falling Upwards" helps us with these questions.
Falling Upwards challenges the reader to examine his life experience and re-evaluate his path. This is a superior book about human spiritual growth and approach to contentment. How do I grow? What is my road to serenity - to happiness? How can I best adjust to my problems? Why do I sometimes feel conflicted when I am not secure? When I lose? When I make a mistake?
Considering that the author is a Franciscan Priest, one might expect this book to be religious and focused upon the Catholic Church. It is not. Falling Upwards is a spiritual text with pearls of wisdom that transcend religion. It is spiritual in the sense that it focuses upon our individual spirit and our growth to true happiness. Falling Upwards is deeply psychological. It helps us focus upon the growth of our psyche and our search for maturity.
Rohr explains that human development can be viewed in two stages. The first phase of our life is about building our self concept, security, relationships, and place in the community. The primary focus in this stage is upon self and our survival. Some people live their entire life in this first stage.
The second phase of human growth is focused upon discovering our real self, searching for the roots of our self, and discovering our true worth. In the second half of life we learn patience, forgiveness, and concern for other people. The second half is where we become much more serene and contented.
Rohr teaches us that we must experience success in early life to build a strong self image. To make a transition from the first to the second stage of life, a person usually must fail and begin to challenge the rules that bind him. Most "crossover points" to the second phase involve suffering.
Rohr mentions that most major spiritual leaders, like Jesus, Elijah, and Mohammed, required their followers to leave their homes and families behind and follow them. They believed that one must leave the comfort and security of "home" and accepted assumptions, to grow. Without worldly security we can be more open to change.
Rohr's authorities are many. He draws upon the whitings of William James, Abraham Maslow, Eric Fromm, Carl Jung, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Thomas Merton, Joseph Campbell, and Ernest Becker.
Falling Upwards is not an easy read. To fully appreciate each chapter requires much thought and meditation. The real value of Rohr's text is in how to apply its lessons to our lives. I highly recommend this book.
Most of us are stuck in the first part of our spiritual life, the part that is about creating the structures and the container for who we will be when we start living for others, start pouring ourselves out like Christ did.
Rohr's imagery and references may be too universal for many readers. If you can't get past this because of your own religious fundamentalism (not necessarily a bad thing, btw), just skip it. But his insights into what makes us tick, and then what SHOULD make us tick when we finally get to the "second half of our spiritual life", are more than worth navigating his multi-religious musings. (For the record, he is a Catholic priest and a Franciscan, so though he borrows thoughts from all religious and philosophical traditions, he is firmly planted in Christianity.) His style reminds me a bit, by the way, of Dallas Willard, and I'm surprised Willard never gets mention here.
How much did I like this book, as a 47-year old who is wrestling with his own thoughts on how to engage my "second half"? I'll simply put it this way. After finishing this book, I immediately began a second read (it's not long, but is very dense) and plan to take many copious notes and process the content very very carefully.
My favorite book on spirituality for years and years has been "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard. This book is sure to be tied with that one in my heart.
Fr. Rohr is known for speaking clearly, prophetically, and with wisdom.
Falling Upward, his latest work, is an amalgam of insight drawn from the Christian tradition, the field of psychology, epic poetry, and contemporary spirituality. There is no shortage of interesting analogies, fresh connections, and surprising verities in this book, primarily on the concept of identity, and the strong need we have as human beings to construct containers within which we can seek to understand ourselves, followed by the deeper calling to transcend and surpass that container in ways that both embrace and challenge our existing identities. Rohr presents an understanding of Christian spirituality that is defined by curiosity, deep humility, and expandingly inclusivity. It is a vision I am certain many will find very compelling.
Rohr's greatest contribution in this book, in my opinion, is his incisive and insightful commentary on the ongoing journey that is both life and faith, if the two can be divorced. He rightly names the "first-half-of-life" culture that dominates the landscape in the United States, the ongoing desire many of us have to define ourselves by some type of success or acclaim, such as a career, or financial independence, or social status. He identifies how these quests often leave those who complete those journeys with a deep emptiness, and without discerning "the quest within the quest," a greater journey that leads beyond those initial identity markers to a deeper sense and experience of what it means to be human, life is left unfulfilled. Rohr argues that the spiritual life is something more, something deeper, something that God has designed as being the fulfillment of the deepest human desires.
Along the way, Rohr points out that most of the success that we find in the spiritual life comes through falling, or failing. "The way up is the way down," according to Rohr, and he cites Jesus and others to make his case. This too is a valuable insight.
While there are many fine nuggets in this book, which other reviewers have pointed out, I found my interest waning as I passed the midway point in the book. I disagree with Fr. Rohr's portrayal of heaven and hell, I felt that his emphasis upon some of the more "big picture" matters of the spiritual life deny important aspects of the particularity of the Christian faith, and I have problems with his definition and understanding of inclusivity as it relates to maturity in the spiritual life.
I must admit I was a bit put off of this book when I first started. Rohr is a Catholic priest and it took a while for me to sink into his vocabulary and understand how he was using his words. After I picked it up again a week or so later. I started to see a spirituality that was formed by story in a way somewhat akin to Donald Miller. The 30 page intro is rough going no matter how you look at it. But once you get to the early chapters where Rohr uses the story of Odyssius to explain his point I was hooked.
The key insight is that the modern world tricks us into thinking growth (and meaning) is a straight line. Rohr, who has also written about spriritual direction, male initiation rites, mystic spirituality and other topics, seems well prepared for a book about maturity. This book is not so much about aging as it is about learning how to see our own growth and life as a journey and not a particular destination.
I am familiar with his use of the word myth, a story meant to explain the big issues and not a false story as some use the word, and I appreciate how he walks us through a variety of stories and ways that people of different faiths understand meaning. (But I think this will be a point where some people are put off. Listen to the whole point about myth and do not be put off by the word.)
During one chapter on the Tragedy of Life he has the provocative quote "Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants with us." I know that many will object to this characterization, but in context it is clear that Rohr is trying to establish that God loves us as individuals not as a system he is trying to fix.
A reoccurring theme of the book is that the first half of life is about learning the rules and the second half is about learning when it is appropriate to break the rules. Rohr is not anti-establishment, he thinks establishment is important, but it is also important to understand when establishment is a hindrance, and when you can appropriately see that, you have entered the second stage of life.
The insights of this book are not just for Christians, Rohr bends over backwards to make it accessible. But in the end, it is about using his Christian faith to illuminate what he has learned from modern psychology, anthropology and organizational behavior theory to then 'give new vocabulary to Jesus' transcendent message'. So this book may feel a little 'new age-y' but that is because it is intentionally using the vocabulary of modern social science, eastern religions and western literature and poetry to give new insight to orthodox Christianity.
He summarizes much of the book in a few thoughts about 2/3rd in. 1) We are created with a drive that sends us looking (for God). 2) That journey is not a straight line. 3) The 'God sized hole' has been intentionally created so that only Grace and divine love can satisfy it. 4) God is found in the depths, and the superficial is where sin and addiction trap us. 5) We find the 'something real' in all religions because they speak of heaven or nirvana or something similar. We can live a glimpse of that now, but the glimpse is a glimpse of God.
This still seems very new age-y as I am writing it. But the rightness of it seems to be based on the reality of Jesus Christ death and resurrection and the real loss and suffering that Rohr says that is required for us to get to the second level of maturity. These are not 5 easy steps. These are the real, two steps forward, one step back that we all know are a part of the sinful world that we live in. Aging is hard work. But the way Rohr speaks of it I look forward to it. And I am hopeful, because whatever age I am, at least this far in life, I have thought was the best part of life.
I look forward to being an elder. Not to boss people around or gain respect, but because I want to help people live better and learn from the mistakes I have make. Life is about sharing and that is probably the thing I am most hopeful about from 'Falling Upward.
This book was provided by Amazon.com through their Vine Review program.
on January 14, 2013
Richard Rohr's unique viewpoint has been incredibly helpful for me on my spiritual journey and I'm a Protestant! He makes the book understandable yet challenging. It's turned my theology on its head, and that's a good thing. I highly recommend it, but its not for the closed mind. If you think you've found all the truth and aren't open to anything else, you won't like this book. But if you're searching and the regular church routine isn't helping you, you'll love this book.
on February 19, 2012
I think this man probably has a point, I just haven't gotten to it yet. He just keeps saying that the first part of life is different from the last part of life, but so far (I'm 3/4 of the way through)no specifics. I've been told the last couple chapters are better, but personally I wouldn't recommend this book.
"Falling Upward" is an interesting reflection by a well-known and prolific Franciscan priest in which the author proffers "a spirituality for the Two Halves of Life." He describes the "two halves of life" in this way: "the task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one's life and answer the first essential questions: `What makes me significant?' `How can I support myself?' and `Who will go with me?' The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver." The author contends that the first half of life is therefore about learning limits, while the second half of life is about the development of "a tragic sense of life," a "bright sadness," an accommodation with the stumbling and recovery inherent in life. He is not the first to articulate the idea of a divided lifecycle, but his description of the stages is easy to read and almost poetic in places.
That being noted, this was an ultimately disappointing book in three ways. The book is far more of a description of the two halves of life as envisioned by the author rather than a roadmap of how to develop the desired outlook; this book is more of a memoir or quasi-autobiographical reflection by the author rather than his usual self-help books. If you can cultivate or reproduce the attitudes he describes, than you will be very happy with this book, but, as the author concedes, some achieve this winsome perspective on life very early, while others never develop or mature. As such, his "spirituality" does not seem tied very closely to chronology, but the achievement of certain perspectives.
The second problem that I had while trying to absorb the author's prose was that he uses the word "spirituality" when he actually focuses on "psychology." He quotes plenty of spiritual thinkers, but the backbone of his analysis is Jung the psychologist, and the goal of his spirituality could be restated as achieving maturity. This is far more of a psychology book with spiritual examples than a true spirituality. If there is a spirituality inherent in the author's thesis, it seems closer to the Buddhist notion of "bodhi," i.e., our suffering ends when our craving ends.
The third barrier to my endorsement of this book is that the author is unable to overcome his personal bias (prejudices?). He says at several points in the book that he is neither conservative nor liberal Catholic Christian, but it is interesting to note that the groups that he singles out for criticism are always the traditional or conservative practitioners of the faith. I would have been able to overlook these snarky asides for what they were, if not for the fact that the author kept asserting an objectivity that he apparently does not possess.
If you like Richard Rohr's previous works, you will probably like this one. If not, or if you are unfamiliar with his work, I cannot recommend this work as anything other than the musings of a progressive spiritual thinker. It is definitely not "A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life."
A much better treatment of these issues (and more) can be found in Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. That book I can highly recommend to anyone.
Note on Nov 28: I am always trying to improve my reviews, so if you're tempted to vote that my review is not "helpful," please take a few moments and leave a comment as to your reasons so I can do better next time. Thanks!
on January 3, 2012
"Be Not Afraid" to Fall Upward
I have given this book as a gift to somewhere between 40 and 50 people, which tells you how much I like it. It is one of the finest books I have read on the spiritual journey. I am considering using it in a spirituality and work class that I teach, even though the students are not at mid-life. I think the book addresses important concepts relevant to people of all ages, and all faiths.
I have read many of Richard Rohr's books, and this is amongst my favorites. While sometimes critical of organized religion, Father Rohr writes eloquently about how religion can be a healthy or unhealthy experience. This is not a book for people who believe that fundamentalism (of any type) is the road to salvation. Rohr is pluralistic, open, and fully engaged in all that life has to offer. Of critical importance is his message that we learn more from our crucibles in life than we do from our major successes. This book is particularly relevant during these difficult times, as it emphasizes that we must embrace all that happening in our lives--both good and bad. When I counsel students, I cite from page 6 of this book that reminds us that "Be Not Afraid" is stated 365 times in the Bible. That's worth remembering!
Pauline J. Albert, PhD
on November 7, 2011
There are two general types of spirituality out there in our Church: Version A is concerned with correct worship, proper behavior, morality, authority, sin and redemption, doctrine, official teachings, truth, etc; Version B, on the other hand, is focused on service to the poor and marginalized, ecology and environment, community, conscience, love, inclusion, etc. If your spirituality focuses on Version B and you are irritated by those whose religion is centered on version A, you will love this book; if it is the opposite, you will hate it.
I was initially hopeful for the book because, as a Franciscan myself, I loved the title. The title of the book is how all Christians should live their lives. In fact, authentic Christian spirituality always begins with the cross; we (Christians) find God by admitting our sins, faults, weaknesses, failures, wrong attitudes, etc. and taking them to the cross through which we find forgiveness; then we attempt to follow the Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, who humbled himself by leaving Heaven, becoming a man, and going to the cross. All Christians are called to imitate Christ by humbling ourselves and going down. This is "falling". And, as Christ was resurrected, so can the faithful believe that their sins are forgiven and hope to be raised up on the last day. This is "upward". Only by humbling ourselves and going down, can we expect God to exalt us and raise us up; i.e. the title, "Falling Upward." It's a great theme, and a great title and all true Christians should strive to "fall upwards". However, the problem is that Rohr seems to believe that the second half of life involves rejecting the first, even though he says the first is necessary and he says that the second half is filling the container, the first half.
This is my first Richard Rohr book, and I did not like it. Not because I'm a Version A-only, traditionalist, but because I believe that true, orthodox Christianity should properly balance the two. Rohr is a staunch defender of Version B Christianity and harshly critical of Version A, though he says that he started out as a Version A, then after seminary switched over to Version B. And this is the plot of the book. He claims that everyone should have as their foundation Version A in the "first half of life," but when they mature psychologically and spiritually, should move over to Version B, like he did. So Christians, other religious people, or political people out there who are stuck in Version A are still in the first half of life. On the other hand, those who have outgrown Version A are in Version B and are properly in the "second half". He does say that all people should have Version A as a necessary foundation, or "container," but at some point, they should switch to Version B.
Rohr frequently quotes scripture, history, the lives of the saints, etc. to demonstrate that God favors Version B spirituality and dislikes Version A (as the author himself does); however he often quotes out of context. I will just cite one example: while trying to demonstrate that God is inclusive and loves all people - good and bad alike - without distinction, Rohr cites the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat in Matthew 13: 24-30. He quotes, "don't pull out the weeds or you might pull out the wheat along with them. Let the wheat and the weeds grow together...." He is attempting to demonstrate that God makes no distinction between sinners and the righteous, and loves them alike, and therefore so should we. However, he left out the next sentence: "then at harvest time, I will say to the harvesters, `First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.'" Thus, this parable actually teaches that God DOES distinguish between good and bad and indeed hates the bad. There are plenty of places in the Gospels where Jesus exhorts his followers to behave properly (cf. Matthew 5:17-20). However, it also teaches that we (his followers) are not to do the burning ourselves; rather, we are to leave that to God's Providence. Instead, we (his followers) are to learn to patiently endure and cohabitate with the "weeds" and thus we are to: learn to respond to them with virtue and love; discern truth through their errors; and (due to our own weeds) develop empathy for them in addition to demonstrating humility.
Personally I think the book would have been great if his overall message and conclusion was that second half life should synthesize the two without rejecting the first. Even though Rohr claims that he appreciates the first half container, which he says is a necessary foundation for all, he seems to contradict himself. His musings and ruminations that harshly criticize the institution of the Church, its leaders, teachings on faith and morals, history, structures, decisions, etc. (the first half) clearly reveal that he is quiteirritated by "first half" people. (He even says so at one point in the book).
Therefore, my conclusion is that the book is an attempt not to move people toward 2nd half life maturity, but to embrace his own unbalanced, partisan view of Christian spirituality that is outside orthodox, mainstream Catholicism.
Pax et bonum
Bret Thoman, OFS