Book Group

Reading: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

1 June, 22 June, 27 July, 24 August and 28 September 7:30pm

Cremorne (address details supplied following registration).

The book chosen by the St James’ Institute Book Group is Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward. Early registration is advisable as numbers are limited. Free to attend, members to purchase their own copy of the book.

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This is a book that describes adult life as being lived in two distinct halves. The first half of life might basically be seen as investing in security – in all those things that provide a sense of comfort and certainty. This will involve the construction of identity, of values, of the various roles played in adult life (e.g. parenting, career, and life lived beyond family and working). It is here that priorities are shaped, but also where disappointments, failures and hurts can accumulate to a significant degree. It is as if the first half of life is about building a container for our lives. But herein lies the rub: all too often what kind of life might go inside that container is ignored, despite all the self-congratulation, delusion and hurt that might surround it. Concerning the second half of life, it is commonplace to hear people talk about getting older as some downward spiral into things best avoided for as long as possible.


We hear of people’s fears about ill health, decreasing mobility, having fewer choices, and loss of identity through retirement or through changing family roles. Not to mention compounding regrets about past losses, neglects and failures that can bring about a kind of emotional paralysis. In other words, you might well ask about both halves of life: “Is that all there is?” It is the commonplace ‘empty container’ view of the second half of life that this book seeks to challenge, not to deny all these uncomfortable aspects of ageing but rather to use them as the very foundation for a richer focus on what life can be. And don’t be misled about who this book is aimed at: every one of us – no surprises here – is getting older.


In this welcome and engaging book, Richard Rohr seeks to turn potential fears about advancing years upside down. Moving on through life need not primarily be viewed in negative terms at all – that downward spiral into unpleasantness – but rather as an opportunity to grasp life in all its abundance – that falling upward of the book’s title.


Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in the United States, has written extensively on spirituality and Christian living. His crucial message is that the fears, failings, disappointments and heartbreaks of the first half of life are necessary stepping stones – indeed the very foundation – of the joy and serenity of the second. For Richard Rohr, this is the essence of the Christian message, fully understood and shown by our Lord time and time again: In this second half of life, one has less and less need or interest in eliminating the negative or fearful, making again those old rash judgments, holding on to old hurts, or feeling any need to punish other people. Your superiority complexes have departed in all directions. You do not fight these things anymore; they have just shown themselves too many times to be useless, ego based, counterproductive, and often entirely wrong….You fight things only when you are directly called and equipped to do so (page 118).


For some the second half of life barely gets underway. Letting go of ego, of ambition, of greed, of past hurts and fears, is momentous – and so many folk seem almost to prefer what they are familiar with, however full of negative things it might be. For others, after one is well into adulthood and all that it entails, there can be a lengthy opportunity to grow into that second half of life: We can give our energy to making even the painful parts and the formally excluded parts belong….If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect and falling, you can now do it for just about everybody else. If you have not done it for yourself, I am afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgment, and futility to others (page 114). So, Richard Rohr invites us to let go of our negative ways of thinking about our advancing years, and rather to begin falling upward ‘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.’ The invitation is to start that journey now, regardless of how many birthdays you have notched up. He invites us to accept and embrace our hurts, our pain, our frailties and our fears, and to use them as stepping stones for a new way of living. This is a readable, accessible and engaging book, full of insight and care for the reader, although I cannot do it justice in such a brief review.

Review by Phillip Jones, April 2012