Book Review: Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Book Review by Rhonda Blevins, Pinnacle Associate

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

A few nights ago I awoke from a disturbing dream in which my husband was driving and I was navigating with our screaming 5-year-old in the backseat. I could see clearly where we needed to go on the map, but my ability to communicate the directions fell short. We drove in circles around the intended destination. “Sir Whines-a-lot” in the backseat only added to the frustration. In a moment of irritation, my husband decided to drop him off by himself at a park, which I permitted. Within a few moments, however, I regained my maternal instincts and demanded we go back and get him. That’s where the dream ended.

Before you call child protective services on me, let me explain. The night of the dream I completed a fascinating book by Franciscan priest and prolific author, Father Richard Rohr, entitled Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. In the book, Rohr suggests that for the first time in human history, many people have the opportunity to take what he calls the “further journey” of faith.

Throughout humanity, the vast majority of people have been consumed with “first-half-of-life” tasks including working, raising kids, and establishing security. With the advent of “retirement,” men and women are free from these important societal tasks and are more able to engage the deeper journey of faith.

As I read along, I recognized my deep desire to take that deeper journey of faith. But I can’t. Not just yet. I’ve got a 5-year-old in the backseat who needs my devotion and care.

My dream reminded me that although I long to take the “further journey” Rohr says is out there, I’m still at least partially consumed with first-half-of-life tasks. The further journey will have to wait until after karate practice.

That’s my excuse. What’s yours?

Falling Upward was especially intriguing to me given the nature of my congregation of mostly retired people. I wish every retired person in my church would read it. Granted, you might wonder, like I did, if there’s room in Rohr’s thought process for more than two phases to the spiritual journey. But I’m convinced, if I could just get them to read it, they would find themselves in Rohr’s description of the epic story of Homer’s Odysseus, who longed for home and fought long and hard to get there, only to realize he had to set out again on a further journey—a journey which Homer fails to describe.

Rohr seeks to counter the notion that the second half of life is about getting old and dealing with failing health. “What looks like falling,” counters Rohr, “can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.”

Today’s senior adult stands uniquely poised across human history to take up the deeper life of faith—the life formerly reserved for clerics and monastics. Beyond the strivings of ego, security, and upward mobility, a deeper life awaits, claims Rohr. Through the growth prompted by failings, disappointments, and loss, we can become more aware of the joy of living into the fullness of who God created us to be.

The deeper journey of faith awaits each of us. We simply have to let go of ego. We have to listen to the still, small voice of God, which Rohr says sounds an awful lot like the voice “of risk, of trust, of surrender.” And take it from me—we have to get through karate practice.