I’m now convinced of the value of understanding the concept of ‘the first and second halves of life’. It might seem obvious to many but for me, it’s been revelatory and essential. Understanding both halves are necessary for even a partial stab at the fullness of the concept but an understanding of the second is particularly significant. I’m not sure I’m fully there yet, in either understanding or practice but I’m learning.
The master expositor of this idea is, of course, Richard Rohr – I think he may even have coined the phrase. I’m so grateful he did. His phrasing and language is particularly creative and not jargon, to which we Christians are so prone. His thoughts are not (he wouldn’t claim them to be) the fullness of an answer but I’ve found the idea helpful as a framework within which to understand and locate senses and feelings that otherwise would randomly roam around in my head and heart.
One criterion for understanding and appropriating Rohr’s explanations is that of being willing to lay down one’s FHOL thinking. It’s hard for FHOL folk to achieve that but it is a prerequisite. It’s part of the process of letting go.
In the book Falling Upward, Rohr explains that first half of life is a time when we build the container in which our lives exist. If we receive appropriate nurturing, we rightly develop ourselves towards home, family, job and leisure in a way that allows us to grow to maturity. If the nurturing hasn’t been as effective as it should be, this can skew the container a little or a lot – causing us to get stuck and keep repeating an emotional (and often, spiritual) cycle. It’s also slightly alarming (unless you are aware already) when he points out Thomas Merton’s phrase that we can “spend our whole lives climbing the ladder of success to find, when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” C S Lewis said something similar regarding the Inner Ring.
This quote in Rohr’s Introduction kind of defines his perspective “Most of us are never told that we can set out from the known and the familiar to take on a further journey. Our institutions and expectations, including our churches, are almost entirely configured to encourage, support, reward and validate the tasks of the first half of life”.
And what are those tasks? Establishing identity, home, relationships, friends, community, security and building a proper platform for our only life. All good things but once they’re done? Rohr encourages us to discover “the task within the task”.
Part of this task is to explore the secret that “the way up is the way down”. (He also puts it the other way – the way down is the way up.) We don’t willingly embark on our further journey – we have to be pushed, pulled, dragged, shoved – who would move from a comfortable place if they didn’t have to? God knows this. So, he takes us through ‘troubles’ to grow us. It’s a process of metamorphosis – we dissolve like the caterpillar in the cocoon. We lose. We fail. We fall. Down is the only way up.
In the FHOL, people don’t understand this and they kick. They fight. They retreat. They so want to do it right. Jesus points out that the last really will be first, as those trying to be first really will never get there - although, as Rohr makes clear, those in the FHOL really cannot hear this truth. It’s our ego that gets in the way. And here, we come to one of the cruxes.
Until that ego dissolves, is disappeared or destroyed; until it’s not by our own willpower or determination or effort; until we allow ourselves to be God-led or we’ve trusted or held on when all is falling around us – we can’t say we’ve even started on the second journey.
More next time.