I watched a video on youtube last night, it featured Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr talking about the two halves of life.
Rohr’s assertion is that we need the first half of our lives to set down boundaries, experience mentorship, come to an understanding of what blessings we have been given and do all of this in an atmosphere of trust and safety. If one is raised in a certain ethnicity, in a certain religious tradition, in a certain set of cultural assumptions, one receives this experience as a gift. Provided this experience is relatively healthy and without damage the security provided of knowing who you are, why you are and what you were made for is exactly what you need to have a successful first half of life.
Rohr is careful to point out that these distinctions, first and second half, are not chronological. For instance in prison ministry he has met men who did not access a positive first half of life experience until they had come to terms with who they really were/are. That experience often happened in their 50’s. On the other hand in hospital chaplaincy Rohr met children with terminal illness who worked their way through to a second of life experience at 12. Most people who have looked at families with small children can see that children need stability, structure, and identity as first steps to maturity and growth. Kim and I came to parenting very late in life. One thing we both wanted to avoid was a style of parenting we witnessed among our peers that placed a lot of emphasis on freedom at the expense of structure. We understood that many of these parents had felt that in their childhood there had been too much structure, not enough freedom. But the result was often to overcompensate. Rohr agrees, that children need what he calls a container, some way of understanding how we make sense of the world.
But Rohr points out that this structure is like the law and Jesus would say that the law was made for humanity, humanity was not created for the law. What he means is that once we have succeeded in making sense of the world and our place in it there must come a time of testing, or as Rohr refers to this, a kind of winnowing or discernment. Rohr describes himself, a Roman Catholic, raised in the heartland of the United States, a white male, a Priest. According to the structures of Rohr’s upbringing he was the source of knowledge and authority in the world. Everyone in Rohr’s town knew that Roman Catholics were closest to God, that God favoured Americans, God had a soft spot for Caucasians, and most especially, God favoured Priests. Except that as Rohr matured and met others he grew to understand that while his upbringing helped give him structure and identity it also undersold others and their experiences. Rohr clearly experienced a God who loved all faiths, people all over the world, that God did not favour any race and that being a Priest was only one way to serve.
Rohr believes in the second half of our lives we experiment, we reach into new experiences, we move beyond our comfort zone. As we stretch and move we take on a new consciousness. A perfect example is the Eucharist. Rohr says the Eucharist is still important to him, it reminds him that he is fed by the Spirit, that Jesus pours out his love and mercy on him and others, and that in community God comes to us and fills us in the simple act of a meal. But Rohr also now knows that this Eucharist is not the only way to God, that there are many other sacred rituals that lead to the divine, and that he can experience those too. Rohr thanks God for the rituals he inherited, that still speak to him, for the community he inherited in the Catholic Church and his role as Priest. But these things are not an end, they were a means to get to a deeper place.
I love that Rohr values the first half of life as he does the second. I worry those without a stable first half end up moving in every direction, touching new experiences like trends, hoping that this new magic bullet will make them happy. On the other hand I worry that those who did have a happy and stable beginning make a god of that experience and try to universalize it for everyone. Structure and identity come first, freedom and creativity come next. And hopefully empathy and love grow and grow.