Thoughts after our meeting: September

walnut-seasonA harvest of walnuts

We spent most of our first meeting sharing our names – and remembering the families who gave us our names.  (I’m collecting your “name stories”, and when I’ve received all of your stories I’ll send them to you by email.)

There were some common themes in our stories.

None of us, of course, had any choice about our names – they were given to us by our parents, and often that name linked us to someone in our family history.

All of us are descendants of immigrants, and most of our families didn’t fit into the American mix at first; it took generations for the Polish, the Irish, the Germans, the Italians to be seen as fully American – just as new immigrants struggle today.

Growing up, several of us had to spend time adjusting to our names, even changing them when we became teenagers. We were on the way to becoming ourselves.

Our names – and the families they connect us to – are signs of our containers, the outside that defines us to the world.  Inside every container, however, is a person who is developing into her real self.

The container and the contents

When we were born, each of us was given an outer identity – a body, a name, a family, a social setting – by our parents and communities.  Our first great task in life was to build and strengthen that identity – Rohr calls it the container that can define us, protect us, and keep  us safe as we grow up.

walnut-springWalnut blossoms

How beautiful each new person is as she (or he) comes into the world!

If walnut trees were people, they would occasionally pull up their roots to stand around new blossoms – admiring their delicate faces, touching their tiny, perfect fingers – and imagining who that flower most resembles in the family tree.  But of course, those frail blossoms would never survive the wind, the rain, the hot sun, the birds and insects around them.  So each potential walnut grows a husk, a hull, that keeps the inside safe and gives it room  to grow.

walnut-summerWalnuts in the hull

Some walnuts survive in their hulls – without blemish – until the harvester comes along.

But most walnuts are already broken open while still hanging on the tree – broken by the fierce rains, the blistering sun, the hungry birds, the pesky insects.  If walnuts were people, they would probably moan as each crack develops in their hull.

But the truth is, only after the harvest can the inner walnut be shared with the world.

walnut-fall A walnut ready for harvest

The amazing thing about a walnut is that there is more than one container!

walnut-meatThe walnut inside

And so even as we’ve come quite a way on our life’s journey – and even as we may think we now have the perfect container – there’s more cracking still to come.

And now we come to the major theme of Rohr’s book – some kind of falling (Rohr calls it necessary suffering) is always part of the human journey.

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr writes:

Necessary suffering goes on every day, seemingly without question…. Most of nature seems to totally accept major loss, gross inefficiency, mass extinctions, and short life spans as the price of life at all. (p. 77)

And in the Companion Journal, Rohr asks this question:

How do you use your freedom to say yes or no to spiritual growth?  Are you open to exploring your own dying, stumbling, mistakes, and falling?  What prevents your doing this?  What difference could the willingness make in your journey? (p. 73)

You can write your answer here (below), or in your own Companion Journal.



Reflections on the reading: Introduction

Invitation to a further journey


A journey into the second half of life awaits us all (Richard Rohr calls it our ‘further journey’).

When we were born, each of us was given an outer identity – a name, a family, a social setting – by our parents and communities.  Our first great task in life was to build and strengthen that identity – Rohr calls it building a container to define us, protect us, and keep  us safe.

But within each of us is a unique soul, given to us not by our parents, but by God – and this soul is our  deepest identity.  The soul is the contents of the container – the precious  cargo we will carry within us as we move through life – and our most important task will be to find our soul, to tend it, and offer it back to God.

water-in-bowlBut the container we have been given – and the work we have done to enhance it – is usually so comfortable and familiar that most of us cling to it with all our might.  Everything around us  –our families, our culture, even our faith communities – encourages us to strengthen that container.  Even the ego within us encourages us to hold onto the container.  (Rohr tells us the ego is that part of us that loves the status quo, even when it isn’t working!)  Yet letting go of the container is the only way to find its contents.

ladderThomas Merton pointed out that we can spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find out – when we get to the top of the ladder – that it has been learning against the wrong wall!  What would give us the courage to climb back down the ladder and look for another way forward?  What would lead us to let go of a container carefully built up over the years?

Rohr tells us that the way up is the way down – or the way down is the way up. Some kind of falling (Rohr calls it ‘necessary suffering’) is always part of the human journey.  That is, sacrifice is the only way up: this is the pattern revealed in scripture and in life.   None of us wants to see this truth, but all of us have to accept it.

To put it another way, the ‘bad news’ of our lives has the power to bring us to the Good News. But when we shield ourselves from pain – or deny the pain that has broken through our defenses – we are unable to allow the Good News into our souls.

Jesus tells us that there are two groups who are very good at denying or avoiding their pain: the very rich and the very religious.  So he shows us that the poor – poor in possessions, in health, in spirit – are ahead of us on the journey, because they are already facing into their ‘bad news’, and already asking for God’s help on the journey.

And so Jesus says, “Follow me.”