Reflections on the reading – Chapter 3

ten-commandmentsListening to law and tradition…

Every culture values law and tradition, social boundaries, and clear moral rules. These keep us safe and give us guidelines to follow; they also help us learn how to control our egos. Without laws, human life would be anarchy and chaos.  (In our early years, the ego cannot be allowed to be totally in charge, or it will take over.)

On the other hand, without pushing against law and tradition, humans could never move forward.  (In our adolescent years, we begin to challenge authorities and the boundaries they set for us.)

So we need freedom as well as law.  Throughout human history, the misuse of law and tradition has damaged our societies and limited our personal development.  (Most tragedies in history have been waged by unquestioning followers of dominating leaders.)

Thus the Gospel calls us, again and again, to leave our homes, families, and fishing nets. (see Falling Upward, p. 38)

loyal-soldierListening to our ‘loyal soldier’…

In his metaphor of the ‘loyal soldier’, Rohr is talking about the superego (Falling Upward, p. 171).

Our ‘loyal soldier’ is the internal guide that reminds us of law and tradition; it also gives us identity, security, and purpose.  Our ‘soldier’ usually gets us safely through the first half of life.

In fact, our ‘soldier’ can give us so much security and validation that we can confuse its voice with the voice of God.  The ‘soldier’ is like an internalized ‘general’ who tells us to stay in line, and do the job we’ve been assigned. But because the ‘soldier’ can’t see the world through God’s eyes, it can’t get us to the second half of life.

The ‘soldier’ may keep us safe, but it has an egocentric view of the world.  It can help with the early decisions that demand black-and-white thinking; but as we move into the subtleties of midlife and later life, our choices become too complex for the ‘soldier’.

Now, beyond the first half of life, we come to some kind of ‘soul encounter’ with our deeper selves. The call to wholeness and holiness always stretches us beyond our comfort zone.

Now the orders that have always come from our internal ‘general’ will no longer help us; we must learn how to hear the much-more-subtle Voice of God, whose only ‘rule’ is love.

new-commandment-love-smallListening for the Voice of God…

Without our ‘loyal soldier’, we can no longer see a clear way forward – there are no clear-cut rules to show us how to love.

With each new person and each situation – and without precise guidelines for every situation – we will need to hear the deeper wisdom of God.

Now we must learn to trust. This is the first step of faith: trusting that we can learn to hear God’s Voice when the rules are no longer carved in stone.

Now our real faith journey begins.


Reflections on the reading – Chapter 2


You are the ‘hero’ of your own story

1. You grew up in a world that felt normal and familiar; this was your home.

(In the ancient myths, you may even have been of royal blood or of divine origin;
but you weren’t yet aware of your True Self. )

2.  When you grew older you found the courage to go on a journey.

(To find your True Self, you had to leave “home”.)

3. But on the journey you are deeply wounded. As you wrestle with your pain
as you try to understand it you begin to see that the ‘wound’ is changing you.

(Your ‘wound’, it turns out, is the secret key – even the sacred key –
that opens the door to your Real Life.)

4. Wounded, you find yourself ‘falling’ into your Real Life,
which before now has been hidden from you.

(Most of us think the world we were born into is Real Life,
but now we discover Real Life flowing beneath the surface of ordinary life.)

5.  Wounded and awakened, your journey now takes you back home.

(But with your new awareness of the Real Life that flows beneath the ordinary,
you can see “home” much more clearly than before.)   

6.  Coming home, you have brought a gift to share with others.

(Your journey, though it has been filled with struggles, has not depleted you;
now you have energy – and gifts – to share with others.)  




Thoughts after our meeting: October

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes,

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?’”  (Falling Upward, p. 13)

Last month we talked about our names, and about the families who gave us those names.  Those families – the people who held us, protected us, and nurtured us – were our very first ‘containers’.  This month we talked about the religions we were born into  – the religious ‘containers’ that our families lived in.

We began by remembering our parents’ churches and religious backgrounds.

  • Some of us had parents who shared a religion and attended church together.
  • Some of us had parents who were religious, but mother and father attended different churches.
  • A few of us had parents who did not participate in any church.

We remembered our families’ religious practices:

  • Attending church with the whole family, or with a parent or grandparent…
  • Attending Sunday School or religion classes…
  • Praying at home with parents or the whole family….
  • Hearing Bible stories, saints’ and heroes’ stories from family members… ….
  • Receiving our own Bible as a special gift to treasure and read…
  • Special times of transition – Baptism, First Communions, Confirmation, Marriage

We remembered the communities in which our families lived:

  • Some of us lived in neighborhoods where almost everyone shared the same religion…
  • Some of us attended religious schools in those neighborhoods….
  • Some of us went to churches far from our neighborhoods…
  • Others of us watched neighboring families go to church, while our own family stayed home…

We remembered the people who nurtured our faith development:

  • Family members who shared their faith with us: a father driving us to church every Sunday, a grandmother telling us stories of Jesus…
  • Family members who showed their love of God in the way they helped others
  • For some of us, nurturing came from outside our family – a neighbor, a teacher, a friend in Al-Anon….

Our parents did not need to keep us safe from daily violence or persistent famine.  We were not born in Syria, or Vietnam, or American inner cities. We had protective, nurturing families and churches who accepted us, loved us as best they could, and passed on their faith to us.  Yes, some of our memories are negative – parents who were scornful of religion; churches with stifling rules – but on the whole, we had healthy ‘containers’ – people who loved us, people who believed in a loving God.

But, as people shared around our circle, we could also hear echoes of our most painful challenges  – the deaths of our children, the deaths of spouses, the painful divorces, the devastating diseases.  While no one said this aloud on Tuesday, I’m sure that these challenges brought us to cry out to God: “Why did this happen…

  • to my child…?
  • to my husband…?
  • to us…?
  • to me…?”

How were we to know, when those challenges first hit us, that they were also bringing  invitations to deeper faith?  We had not yet learned that within every burning bush there is another opportunity to meet the God who promises to stay with us through all the pain that life brings.

Thinking of faith as a ‘fire’

Before life brought us those challenges, people in our families – and people in our churches – had already given us a solid foundation in love.  For almost all of us in the group, our earliest experiences of God’s  ‘fire’ were warm and comforting.   As we gathered around those fires, usually with cherished loved ones, our connections – to those people and to the fire – were strengthened.  We might think of our early faith as a flame that moved into our hearts from loved ones in our families and in our churches.

The fire of faith in the ‘first half’ of our lives:
as we gather around the fire with loved ones,
we begin to trust God’s presence and love. 

But there will always be more to faith than comfort and security, more than experiences of love and joy.  That’s why Richard Rohr writes,

“Authentic God experience always ‘burns’ you, yet does not destroy you, just as the burning bush did to Moses…  “But most of us are not prepared for such burning, nor even told to expect it….” (see Falling Upward, p. 13-14)  

The fire of faith in the ‘second half’ of our lives:
mature faith is trusting that God walks with us,
and that the fire will not consume us.

Reflections on the reading – Chapter 1

The two halves of life    

Ancient doors at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Built by the Ancestral Puebloans (AD 900-1150)

This stunning picture hangs on the wall of a room in my house.  Every time I walk into the room it reminds me that life keeps bringing me to new doors into new rooms, new challenges, and new possibilities.

The picture hangs in the room where I meet with friends who come to talk about their spiritual journeys.  When someone is sitting in the armchair beneath the picture, I can often hear God calling them to cross the threshold into the next part their life.

Richard Rohr says that there are two halves of our life.  In the first half, we all live in rooms built by our families, our cultures, our faith communities. If we’re lucky, we’re happy in this room – it’s where our parents feed us, and teach us, and love us, and help us to grow.  If we’re not so lucky – if our childhood is not so happy – we still find it hard to leave that familiar room.  That’s because the room still represents order and certainty, even if it has cramped our souls. If we walk through the door, we’ll be leaving what we have always known.

But there comes a time when God invites each of us walk through the door into a new chapter for our lives.  And so Rohr writes,

“In the first half of our lives, we have no container for spirituality’s awesome content, no wineskins prepared to hold such utterly intoxicating wine…

“The second half of life can hold some new wine, but that normally means the container has to stretch – die in its present form – or even replace itself with something better.

“Early-stage religion [the first room] is largely preparing us for the immense gift of this burning, this inner experience of God, as though creating a proper stable into which the Christ can be born.   Unfortunately, most people get so preoccupied with their stable, and whether their stable is better than your stable, or whether their stable is the only “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” stable, that they never get to the birth of God in the soul…

“You see, authentic God experience always ‘burns’ you, yet does not destroy you  (see Exodus 3),  just as the burning bush did to Moses…

“But most of us are not prepared for such burning, nor even told to expect it.  By definition, authentic God experience is always ‘too much’.  It consoles our True Self only after it has devastated our false self. “ (see Falling Upward, p. 13-14)

Virgin of the Burning Bush,
St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai

Years ago now, I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert.  The ancient church was filled with beautiful icons – and in a dark corner, I found an icon that touched my soul.  It was an icon of the Virgin Mary, this time pregnant with the baby Jesus; the fire of Jesus’ presence burned within her and around her.   That icon was a powerful symbol for me – of the One who dwells within us, the One who burns within us, and the One who calls us into an uncertain but awesome future.

Richard Rohr asks:  

In  what ways could Jesus’ command to ‘change your mind’ (see Mark 1:15)  affect your personal journey?  Spend time thinking about the difficult situations you are facing now, or the relationships in your life that are difficult now.  How might they be challenging and inviting you to change your mind?      (from the Companion Journal, p. 10