Falling and struggle help faith mature

A religious faith to many people is a counterintuitive thing. If I can’t touch it or see it how can I be sure? There’s nothing we like more than certainty.   Richard Rohr takes the counter intuitive one stage further in his book Falling Upward[1]. For him faith or at least spiritual growth is a fruit of things going wrong and this ‘falling’ is when we progress. He appears distrustful of concerted effort.

He says: ‘God knows that all of us will fall somehow… God must say after each failure of ours “Oh here is a great opportunity! Let’s see how we can work with this.” [Whereas] After our ego-inflating success God surely says “Well nothing new or good is going to happen here”’ p158

Two things seem to emerge from this. Firstly, it’s not the setting out to do good that presents the opportunity for spiritual growth and, second, the book is very definitely about ‘falling’ rather than, say, ‘jumping’. We’re not required to be reckless. Our one requirement is to be receptive to God’s plan when we fall. It’s tempting when things go wrong to want to pick ourselves up and try to carry on. Pausing in the moment, reflecting on the opportunity it presents, is what Rohr appears to advocate here.

Rohr’s thesis is also predicated on the idea of a life in two halves. The first half is concerned with issues such as establishing identity, achievement, supporting ourselves etc. The second half is more difficult to grasp. Rohr devotes a chapter or two to describing the purpose of the second half of life but the nearest thing to a one line definition of it is ‘to find the contents that this container is meant to hold and deliver’ p1. The second half of life serves a different purpose but he concedes that not everyone progresses to the second half. Perhaps they are so tied up with the achievements of the first half. Or as Thomas Merton commented ‘we may spend our whole life climbing up the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall[2]’.

Rohr’s radical thesis places observance of rules in context, particularly church rules. He not only reminds us of the Dalai Lama’s splendid observation: ‘Learn how to obey rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.’ He also reminds us that Christ criticised his own religion the most but never left it. Comforting for those who struggle with aspects of teaching. We are reminded that Jesus said in Matthew 7 ‘the law says… but I say’. Rohr suggests that a slavish adherence to first half of life norms can mean we miss the point of teaching by either being ‘on bended knee before laws or angrily reacting against them –both immature responses’p36.

Jesus came to complete the law and for us this may mean living with the paradox of what laws say and what they were intended for. Rohr suggests that religions other than Christianity are better at living both law and freedom at the same time.

This small volume contains a great deal and merits more than one reading, but my path to it, from another LCSB member, reminds me that growth is a community thing as well.


[1] Richard Rohr: Falling Upward – A spirituality for the two halves of life SPCK

[2] As quoted in Rohr p xvii

Categories LCSB | Tags: | Posted on September 1, 2016

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