Co-incidences rarely prove anything but they may get our attention and nag away at us until we investigate them further. That can be the beginning of some interesting scientific enquiry, or send us on a wild goose chase, or just be the occasion for some unrelated but fortuitous blessing.

Having earlier decided that some paintings I did related to a sense of falling upward, I decided some months later to write a post about that. At about the same time, I saw a book being advertised entitled “Falling Upward”. Had it not been for that coincidence, I would probably not have given the book a second glance as it was described as being about the spirituality and process of aging and how we deal with them. This is not something I have an immediate interest in. However, because of the coincidence of its title, I did read on, look at the reviews and the author biography, and in the end decided to order it.

I am glad I did – but it is not a quick read. It has taken me four months – not because I am a slow reader (I’m not) but because I found I needed to take time to digest what I read. That meant maybe reading only a page or two at a time and often meant I read some passages two or three times over. I would probably give this book 7½ out of 10. I may read it again or refer to the notes and quotes I took but it hasn’t earned a place next to Julian of Norwich’s “Revelations of Divine Love” or Thomas Merton’s “Seeds of Contemplation”.

The author draws on his experience of life as a child, as a priest, Franciscan, and in his encounters in prison ministry.

“A journey into the second half of our own lives awaits us all. Not everybody goes there.” (p vii)

The overall theme is about two different attitudes to life, success, suffering and growth. The author talks about two stages of life: first half living and second half living. The first half of life is about establishing and maintaining our identity which is characterised by ambition, building, acquiring, growing, defending, rules, tradition and the like. It is how we build a secure sense of self and is necessary if we are to become strong and independent. This can be seen in individuals, in communities and countries, and is particularly associated with young people. Rohr’s point is that there is more to life than this; in fact, this approach on its own can become destructive at least to the extent that one’s success is at the expense of someone else’s loss. Our clearly defined identity, as a community say, may mean that we have trouble dealing with misfits and end up resorting to a legalistic approach which excludes more than it includes.

The second stage, second half of life, has fewer certainties, and is more comfortable with fuzzy boundaries, paradox, and usually sees growth (as a person or as a community) through suffering and/or loss. That is not to say that the first half of life is bad, rather that it is not sufficient. We need builders and achievers; we need some rules to structure our relationships. But what we also need are those who are able to move comfortably across the things that divide – people who are not particularly concerned with their own status and success. This is an attitude which Rohr associates with Elders – older (usually) people who have lived the first half of life but, usually after some kind of crisis, are able to live in the second half of life. They live, not in unremitting regret of losing the first half of life, with a sense of falling, not down but upward.

Although this book has taken me some effort to read, it has helped me to get another perspective on my crisis of this time last year. Failure does not mean one is a bad person; in fact it can be part of the process of reassessing one’s life and attitude to it.

To coin a phrase, if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to heaven is marked by falling and rising.

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