Richard Rohr, Falling Upward; A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 199pp.
The Franciscan Richard Rohr has been an ordained Catholic priest for forty years, written some thirty books, and traveled the world as a speaker on the spiritual life. His most recent book recommends a spirituality of imperfection for the second half of life, what you might call successful failure. This stands in stark contrast to the way most of us live in the first half of life, "establishing personal (or superior) identity, creating various boundary markers, seeking security, and perhaps linking to what seem like significant people or projects. These tasks are good to some degree and even necessary," but you don't want to live the second half of life with a first half spirituality. In John 21:18 Jesus tells Peter, "when you were young… but when you grow old."
In the second half of life we move beyond the "infantile grandiosity" of youth, and embrace the mystery of finding our True Self (his caps). Gerard Manley Hopkins describes this in his poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire: "Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves — goes itself; it speaks and spells, / Crying what I do is me; for that I came." In the second half of life we acknowledge that failure is normal, inevitable, necessary for personal growth, and one of the primary means of grace that God uses in our lives. The way up, says Rohr, echoing the gospel, is the way down, and vice versa.
Rohr's book aims for a broad readership, so he's just as likely to riff on Homer's "Odyssey" or the Dalai Lama as Jesus or Paul. He'll often refer to Christians in the third person. This raises an important question about the relationship between the gospel and others spiritualities that Rohr never addresses. Others might question his heavy doses of Jung. I found his frequent use of italics and exclamation marks distracting. But I appreciated this look at the second half of life, along with two other recent reads: Wendy Lustbader, Life Gets Better; The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older (New York: Penguin, 2011); and Karl Pillemer's 30 Lessons for Living; Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, based upon his scientific study at Cornell University of a thousand elderly Americans.