Posts Tagged ‘childlike wonder’

‘Second half of life’ – return to the source

October 26, 2019

Pentecost 20 – 2019

Luke 18:15-30

Marian Free


Loving God fill us with the wide-eyed wonder of a child and free us from all our striving that we may learn to depend entirely on you. Amen.

I can still remember the first time that our daughter clapped her hands. I was hanging out the washing and she was sitting on the grass behind me. When I turned around, there she was, looking in amazement at her hands, filled with wonder that she could use them to make a noise. As I watched she sat there and clapped her hands together over and over as if she couldn’t believe that it wasn’t an accident. It was one of those magical moments of which there are many if you are privileged enough to have and to raise a child.

What happens to us that we lose our sense of joy in the small things of life, our sense of achievement in little things? When do we stop taking pleasure in what we can do and what we have and begin measuring ourselves against others and holding on to our achievements and possessions as markers of our identity?

Richard Rohr, who is one of my favourite writers on the subject of spirituality, has published a book called Falling Upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life. It is not, as I had thought from the title, a book to provide spiritual direction as we age but rather a handbook for the spiritual life in general. Rohr argues that there are two halves of life and that these are not related to physical age but to spiritual maturity. Many people, he contends, never reach the second half of life because they spent so much time building up the first half that they are unwilling or unable to relinquish those efforts in order to enter the second half.

In the first half of our lives, Rohr suggests, we need boundaries and rules so that we can learn self-regulation and so that we can live in harmony with others (much as a two year old needs to know where the boundaries are so that she or he can feel secure and find their place in the world). We begin as a blank slate so it is essential that we spend time learning who we are and discovering what we can do. Once we have developed a sense of identity, created a framework as it were then, Rohr suggests, we need to stop striving and begin to seek the contents that the container is created to hold.

In other words, in order to grow spiritually, to become complete and whole, we have to enter the second half of life. To do this we have to learn to let go of the externals that we have allowed to define our lives and begin to focus on the internals – why we do what we do, why we need recognition from others, why we need to build up material possessions. When we learn what motivates us, we can relinquish those superficial markers of achievement and give ourselves permission to focus more on those things that are more deeply satisfying and that lead us to end our striving, to recover our innocence and to rest in the deep peace of knowing ourselves loved and perfect in God’s eyes.

Some of us are jolted into the second half of life by a life-changing event – a heart attack, a diagnosis of cancer or worse – a deteriorative disease, a death of a family member or a close friend, a fire or a flood that destroys everything we own. Faced with the reality (and perhaps proximity) of our own mortality we take stock and work out what is really important and ask ourselves whether (for example) seeking wealth or recognition are as important as building relationships with our families and friends, whether striving for what we don’t have will really bring us happiness or whether should we learn to be happy with what we already have. We are forced, if reluctantly into some version of the second half of life.

While most of us accept and learn from the challenges and setbacks that life throws at us, not all of us take the initiative to embark on the discipline of giving up the hard-won markers of self that we have spent the first halves of our lives collecting and building. We want to hold on to both the positive and the negative aspects of our identity. We cling to both our achievements and our injuries without understanding that both of them hold us back. Our past efforts and experiences whether positive or negative, whether faith-related or purely secular – those things in which we have built our identity are the very things that turn our focus inwards towards ourselves rather than outwards towards God and that indicate reliance on our own resources rather than dependence on God.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Like many of Jesus’ sayings and the journey towards a spiritual existence, this saying contains a contradiction. Jesus is not encouraging us to return to childishness or to childish ways, but to recover the openness of childhood, the joy in simple pleasures, the willingness to rely on God and to the deep contentment of being just who we are which is just who we were created to be.







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