Reflections on the reading – chapter 13

Closing wisdom from Richard Rohr:

Wisdom about “falling”….

Most people think that the second half of life is mostly about getting old – but the whole thesis of Falling Upward is the exact opposite.

What feels like “falling” can also be experienced as falling upward and onward.
This kind of “falling” is not about a loss but a gain; it’s not losing but actually winning.

God knows that all of us will fall somehow.  The genius of the Gospel is that it includes the problem inside the solution:

Falling becomes standing;
stumbling becomes finding;
dying becomes rising.

But our small selves cannot see these truths easily.  (This is exactly why we need elders who will mirror life truthfully for us.)

Wisdom about our need for “mirrors”….

True elders mirror back the goodness they find in us. These intimate relationships are the greatest mirrors of all, because they can lead us to our True Selves.

(Not-so-mature people will mirror their own un-lived and confused lives onto us; only those who respond to the real you, good or bad, can help us in the long run.)

By the second half of life, other people have less power to infatuate us or hurt us. Now we can tell the difference between who we really are and how others see us. And so we begin to step out of the hall of revolving and self-reflecting mirrors.

But we can usually do this only if we ourselves have had a true mirror – at least one loving, honest friend to ground us (even the accepting gaze of the Friend).

 Wisdom about the “second journey”….

The second journey is ours to walk or to avoid. If we don’t want to go on that journey, it’s our choice.

That means no one can keep us from the second half of our own life except ourselves. Nothing inhibits the second journey except our own lack of courage, patience, and imagination.

Some falling apart on the first journey is necessary for this to happen – so do not waste a moment of time lamenting…  Pain is part of the deal.

God will always give you exactly what you truly want and desire. 
So make sure you desire deeply – desire God, and desire your True Self. 

All your emptying out is only for the sake of a Great Outpouring. 
God, like nature, abhors all vacuums, and rushes in to fill them. 

As we finish “Falling Upward”, I’m remembering Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day”, which we read after discussing the first chapter.  What does the poem say to you now?

The Summer Dayby Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?


Reflections on the reading – chapter 12

Richard Rohr writes,

It is rare to really absorb the deeper meaning of the Gospel in the first half of life.   When we were building (and then protecting) our ‘containers’, we may have settled for the answers our families and churches passed on to us.

But when we move into the second half of life, we can become impatient with institutions, including the church.  We know that every institution needs to be concerned about practical things like membership, policies, and principles, but we’re now aware that most of these concerns are ego needs, not soul needs.

Now our intimate circles may be growing smaller.  We may bless others who are doing what they feel they must do for a group, but we may no longer be able to join them.

As we distance ourselves, we may feel a certain loneliness.  But that loneliness can be accompanied by a new ability to be alone – and even to be happy alone.

We all tend to move towards a needed introversion as we get older. Such introversion is necessary in order to unpack all that life has given us and taken from us.

Now we can begin to engage in contemplation.

Dualistic, ‘black-and-white’ thinking helps us by making comparisons.  The dualistic mind compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out any contrary  evidence (and at times can even crucify).

But dualistic thinking doesn’t help us in most real-life situations.  We’re meant to see in wholes, not in parts.

The most important issues in life need ‘both-and thinking’.  Split people see and create splits in everything and everybody.  Whole people see (and create) wholeness wherever they go.

Where will we find others who will join us in the contemplative life?

Jesus defined church not as an institution but as those places “where two or three are gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20).  

In his parable of the seed, Jesus reminded his disciples that every seed needs receptive soil before it can grow (Matthew 13:4f).

Receptive people help us grow.  These people are the ‘good soil’.  Two or three people, gathered in Jesus’ name and seeking deeper truth, can create whole new levels of dialogue and friendship.

Could such people support you as you practice the contemplative life?  Could they also support you as you move from prayerful contemplation to constructive action?

Some questions from the Companion Journal:

Could ‘both-and’ thinking help you (or your loved ones) when facing suffering and/or death? (p. 159)

Could ‘both-and’ thinking help you deal with issues at work, in your community, or in political debates?  (p. 160)

Could ‘both-and’ thinking help you respond to a troubling world with courage and compassion?  (p. 160)

Could ‘both-and thinking’ help you move from prayerful contemplation to constructive action?  (p. 160)




Reflections on the reading – chapter 11

The Shadowlands

Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing – but learning to see fully seems to take most of our lifetime.

When we are young, we all identify so strongly with our personas that we become masters of denial – and we l earn to eliminate or deny anything that doesn’t support our self-image.

By the second half of life, we’ve all bumped up against our shadow selves; regular contact with our shadows gradually detaches us from the personas we worked so hard to construct in the first half of life.

Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not know it.  (Remember, hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means “actor”, someone playing a role rather than being “real”.)

Our shadow is what we refuse to see about ourselves, and what we don’t want others to see.

Our persona (which is Greek for “stage mask”) is what we choose to identify with, what other people want from us – and reward us for. This “stage mask” is not bad, or necessarily egocentric; it is just not “true”.

So our self-image nothing more than that – an image – which isn’t worth protecting, promoting, or denying.  Our self-image is not substantial or lasting; it is just created out of our own minds, desires, and choices – and other people’s choices for us!

As Jesus said, if we can begin to “make friends” with those who bring us challenging messages, we’ll begin to see some of our own shadow.  But if we aren’t willing to see our shadow, we’ll miss out on much-needed wisdom, and end up “imprisoned” within ourselves or “taken to court” by others:

Make friends with your opponent quickly while he is taking you to court; or he will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and the officer will follow you into prison.  You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)

The “opponent taking us to court” is a telling metaphor for what we allow inner stories to do to us.  We can create entire and self-justifying scenarios of blame, anger, and hurt – toward ourselves or toward others.  But Jesus is saying, “Don’t go there!”

Moving to second-half-of-life wisdom comes through healthy self-critical thinking, including necessary shadow work.  Gradually, we learn to see ourselves beyond our own shadows/disguises.

Shadow work in humiliating work, but properly so.  And I am sorry to report that it continues until the end of life, the only difference being that we are no longer surprised by our surprises or so totally humiliated by our humiliations!

The saints learn and grow from encountering their shadows.  A saint is someone who no longer has an “I” to protect or project.  They saints learn they will never be perfect – and they’ll never be perfectly right; so they just try to live in right relationships.  In other words, they try above all else to be loving.

The reason that mature or saintly people can feel so peaceful – so accepting of self and others – is that there is not much hidden shadow self left.  (There is always and forever a little more, however!  No exceptions.  Shadow work never stops.)

Shadow work is almost another name for falling upward, because the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we will see.   Lady Julian of Norwich put it best of all:  “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall.  Both are the mercy of God!”


Reflections on the reading – chapter 10

Luminous darkness

There will still be darkness in the second half of our lives. But as we grow spiritually, we developed greater ability to hold the darkness creatively and with less anxiety.  (This is what St. John of the Cross called “luminous darkness” – deep suffering and intense joy can coexist within us.)

In the second half of life, the boundaries of our container have been enlarged by the constant addition of new experiences and relationships.  (We are like expandable suitcases, and our lives have stretched us, almost without knowing!)

In the second half of life, it is good to be a part of the general dance; we no longer have to stand out on the dance floor.  We are able and eager to generate life from our own abundance and for the benefit of following generations. (This is what Erik Erikson called the “generative” stage of life. )

In the second half of life, we’ve learned to fight things only when we feel directly called and equipped to do so.  We have learned ever so slowly, and with much resistance, that most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in ourselves.   (And we now know that daily life requires prayer and discernment more than knee-jerk responses.)

And, ironically, in this second half of life we’re more able than ever to change people – but we don’t need to, and that makes all the difference.  Now we can aid and influence other people simply by being who we are.  In the poet’s wonderful words, we’ve found that:

…  nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose


Reflections on the reading – chapter 9

A second simplicity

Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need a ‘second naiveté’ –  we need to return to the joy of our first naïveté, but now with totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking.     Paul Recoeur

Richard Rohr believes that a kind of second simplicity, a ‘second naiveté’, is the goal of mature adulthood and mature religion:

“The first naïveté may be the best way to begin the journey, but a ‘second naïveté’ is the easiest way to continue that journey without becoming angry or alienated…”

During our ‘first naiveté’ we all think we are the very center of the universe.  The very meaning of the word universe is to “turn around one thing”.  But none of us is at the center of this universe; we are all a part of the Big Picture.

Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else.  But many of us get stopped and fixated in our ‘first naiveté’, which gives us a comfortable (but false) certainty about the universe and our place in it.

Anxiety and doubt

Creative doubt keeps us with a perpetual ‘beginner’s mind’, which is a wonderful way to stay humble and keep growing. Yet this uncertainty, this quiet inner unfolding of things, seems to create the most doubt and anxiety for many believers.

The only price we pay for living in the Big Picture is to hold a bit of doubt and anxiety about the exact how, if, when, where and who of it all.  Unfortunately, most Christians are not well trained in holding opposites for very long; they haven’t learned to live with what could be very creative tension.

But basic religious belief is a trust in some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction in the universe.  Faith in any religion is always somehow saying that God is One and God is good, and if so, then all of reality must be that simple and beautiful too.

But in the face of our daily reality, holding onto this belief requires us to stretch our minds. So the the Jewish people made it their creed, wrote it on their hearts, and inscribed it on their doorways (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5), so that they could not and would not forget it.

Some ‘true believers’ cannot carry any doubt or anxiety at all.   It is probably necessary to eliminate most doubt when we are young  –  it’s a good survival technique.  But such worldviews are not true – and they are not wisdom.   The wise learn to live happily with mystery, doubt, and ‘unknowing,’ and living in this way helps them live with the mystery.

Finding a deeper happiness

In the second half of life, we are no longer demanding our American constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness; rather, simple meaning now suffices, and that becomes in itself a much deeper happiness.

This new coherence, our ability to hold the paradoxes together, is precisely what a second-half-of-life person develops over time.  This new coherence can even feel like a return to simplicity, after we have learned from the complexities of our lives.

The great irony is that we must go through a necessary complexity (perhaps another word for necessary suffering) to return to any second simplicity.  There is no nonstop flight from first to ‘second naïveté’.   (see Falling Upward, p. 114)

Reflections on the reading – chapter 8

‘Amnesia’ and the big picture

When we’re beginning our spiritual journeys, we really don’t know ourselves. Richard Rohr calls this situation amnesia – we have forgotten who we are and whose we are.   The spiritual journey will call us to find our True Self again – the Self who was created to live in union with God.

Most of us depend on religion to guide us on our journey to our True Self, but religions often turn the journey into a worthiness contest of sorts. Religion, too, can encourage us to climb up the ‘ladder of success’, just as our culture pushes us to ‘succeed’.

(We are all proud of the achievements that mark our progress in life – whether it’s a trophy from our first soccer team when we were seven years old, or a year-end bonus from our boss when we’re 40.  Yet we have to learn not to confuse these achievements with signs of our spiritual growth.)

When we turn back to Scripture, we are reminded that God invites us “to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).  The early church called this divinization – that is, God has invited us to take on divinity, to become like God.  What Peter and the other early Christians were discovering is that divinization actually becomes possible through God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.

What ‘good news’ this Gospel is!  But for people who live in a future-oriented, product-oriented, win-lose world, this good news seems just too good to be true.

‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’

Spiritual growth is much more about unlearning old attitudes than learning new things.  For instance, we have to learn again about ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’.  In Scripture, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ come near to us in this life;  as he begins his ministry, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15).  Drawing near to God has been called ‘heaven’ by most traditions – and falling away from God has been called ‘hell.’   But through our ‘amnesia’ – forgetting that God invites us into union now, in this life – most of today’s Christians believe that ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are still waiting for them in a future life.

Rohr says, “If you have been taught to believe in a God who punishes  – or even eternally tortures – those who don’t love him, then you are living in an absurd universe, where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!”  The true Gospel (the one we hear, read, and see in Jesus) is telling us that God doesn’t want to exclude anyone from union.  God does allow us the freedom to exclude ourselves; that means no one is in hell unless they themselves have chosen to be finally alone and separated.

Think it through for yourself:  Why would Jesus’ love be so unconditional while he was in this world, and suddenly become totally conditional after death?

God’s ‘economy’

Our human ego clearly prefers an economy of merit – where we can divide the world into winners and losers, workers and idlers – to any economy of grace, where merit or effort or worthiness loses all meaning.

But remember Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard: the laborers who only worked for an hour were paid the same as those who worked hard all day. (Matthew 20:1-16)  What kind of economy is Jesus describing?

Vineyard Harvest Celebration
Everyone is invited!




from “The Wiz”, sung by Diana Ross

When I think of home
I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing

Wind that makes the tall trees bend into leaning
Suddenly the snowflakes that fall have a meaning
Sprinklin’ the scene, makes it all clean

Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back
Now that I have some direction
It would sure be nice to be back home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Giving me enough time in my life to grow up
Time be my friend, let me start again

Suddenly my world’s gone and changed it’s face
But I still know where I’m going
I have had my mind spun around in space
And yet I’ve watched it growing

Oh, If you’re list’ning God
Please don’t make it hard to know
If we should believe in things that we see
Tell us, should we run away
Should we try and stay
Or would it be better just to let things be?

Living here, in this brand new world
Might be a fantasy
But it taught me to love
So it’s real, real to me

And I’ve learned
That we must look inside our hearts to find
A world full of love
Like yours
Like mine

Like home..


Thoughts after our meeting – January

God Our Home
Reflections on “Home and Homesickness”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tented) among us… John 1:14

What do you see when you think of “home”?

Think of your own home:  It could be where you were born, where you grew up, where you raised your children, or the place in your life where you were happiest.

(For some, the place where we started life might not have been our happiest home.  So, if that’s true for you, think of the place where you have felt most “at home.”)

When you think of “home” what do you see?  What do you feel?  What do you remember?  Who were the people there?  What did you do?

What is it about “home” that makes it home?   Take a moment to write down your feelings, your thoughts about “home”.  Some of you may want to write words, others draw pictures.  Take a moment to do that.  Try to put in words, or pictures, what it is that makes us feel “at home”.

Jesus was at his last supper with his disciples, and he said to them:

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”    (John 14:1-3)

The disciples were afraid.  They feared for their own lives, but they also feared losing Jesus.  Yet Jesus comforts them, telling them they will always have a home with him.

In fact, they were “at home” with him in that moment, at that hour.  Yes, they were in a borrowed room … no safety, no permanence; and yet they were at home, because they were with Jesus.

In Bible translations, here are different words for what Jesus said to them:  God has a place for them – a house, a home, a dwelling place, a room.  But the important thing is not the word, and not what the place looks like, but that the place includes Jesus: they would always be with him.  Jesus is telling them that to be “at home” is to be with him, who is “at home” with God the Father.

In fact, Jesus is going to prepare it for them…  Some translators have seen the “dwelling place” as a permanent place. Some translators have thought that Jesus is saying he’s going on a journey; his journey will have many stopping places, and at each place there will be room for them, too.

Christians have always had many images, and used many names, for God.

We picture God as Father, Mother, Holy Spirit, Jesus; the Scriptures call God Light, Bread of Heaven, Rock of Ages…   Can we also think of God as Home? (See Psalms 23, 31, 90…)

Our home is the place where we began, our home is the place where we will end,
and our home is step on our journey, because the Spirit of Jesus goes with us wherever we go.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may thy house be mine abode and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.            

[A paraphrase of Psalm 23, Episcopal Hymnal # 664]

Reflections on the reading – chapter 7

Home and homesickness


The idea of ‘home’ points us in two directions at the same time:

Richard Rohr says that memories of “home” point us back toward the union we experienced as we grew in our mother’s body; and hopes for “home” point us forward, to a final union with our Creator:

Somehow the end is in the beginning, and the beginning points toward the end…..Most of us cannot let go of this implanted promise.  Some would call this homing device their soul, and some would call it the indwelling Holy Spirit, and some might just call it nostalgia or dreamtime.  All I know is that it will not be ignored.  It calls us both backward and forward, to our foundation and our future, at the same time.  It also feels like grace from within us and at the same time beyond us.  Wouldn’t it make sense that God would plant in us a desire for what God already wants to give us?  (Falling Upward, p. 88-89)

Our restless hearts

St. Augustine of Hippo writing his Confessions (p
ainting by Botticelli)

Augustine, born in north Africa in the middle of the 4th century, was the son of a devout Christian mother and a pagan father.  As a young man, Augustine searched everywhere for  true fulfillment.  He chased after pleasures, studied various philosophies, and even joined a religious cult – but his search left him so weary he could only cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

At the very moment when he uttered that cry, Augustine’s eye was led to a passage in Romans that showed him how to find God. Shortly afterward, he was baptized.

After years of reflecting upon what had happened to him, Augustine began writing a prayer to God.  That prayer would evolve into his Confessions, which would take him five years to complete.  The  Confessions would become the world’s first spiritual autobiography, Augustine’s testimony to God’s presence in a soul that had found rest in its Creator.

Augustine’s prayer began, “Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and your wisdom is infinite…. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Confessions of St. Augustine (Book I, Chapter 1)

Augustine wrote many theological books after he finished writing the Confessions, but that one sentence summarizes the theme of Augustine’s life: “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.”

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr identifies the Holy Spirit as the restless agent and advocate that works within us.  The Holy Spirit works at the deepest levels of our desiring.  The Spirit shows us our True Self in God – that is, who we are when we are ‘at home’; and the Spirit  works in us as a guide and inner compass, always pointing us back to ‘home’.

The Psalms give us images of God as “Home”

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.  Psalm 23 

Here’s a hymn written by Isaac Watts, a paraphrase of Psalm 23:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place, from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God.  Psalm 90

Another hymn written by Isaac Watts, a paraphrase of Psalm 90:

And Jesus promises us a ‘home’

Near the end of his Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples he has to leave them.  They  are deeply afraid, but Jesus comforts them, telling them they will always have a home with him.  In fact, Jesus says he is going to prepare a home for them:

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places….And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”   John 14:1f

What words would you use to describe what “home” means to you?

What is it about “home” that makes it home?

And – who are you when you’re “at home”?


Thoughts after our meeting – December

Necessary Suffering
(see Falling Upward, chapter 6)

The tragic sense of life
(see Falling Upward, chapter 4)

A stable lamp is lighted *

A stable lamp is lighted whose glow shall wake the sky;
the stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, and straw like gold shall shine;
a barn shall harbor heaven, a stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city shall ride in triumph by;
the palm shall strew its branches, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, though heavy, dull and dumb,
and lie within the roadway to pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken, and yielded up to die;
the sky shall groan and darken, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry for gifts of love abused;
God’s blood upon the spearhead, God’s blood again refused.

But now, as at the ending, the low is lifted high;
the stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry in praises of the child
by whose descent among us the worlds are reconciled.

Stumbling over the stumbling stone
(see Falling Upward, chapter 5)

* To hear the carol, “A stable lamp is lighted”
(Words by Richard Wilbur, music by David Hurd)
go to