A Spirituality of the Two Halves of Life
Brian B. Pinter
History has moved us into a Kairos moment, a time out of ordinary time. We are being presented with an opportunity to make some intentional choices about what kind of future to create. We can either become conscious of what’s going on, recognize that God’s grace is at work and cooperate with it, or simply fall unconsciously into a future. Each of us has a role to play in this task of cooperating with God’s grace. To that end, I’d like to share some reflections on how we can attend to certain spiritual tasks that are part and parcel of different life stages, and also how we can name and share our gifts with the world, gifts that are constituent to different life stages. Above all, this is a time for wisdom; the world needs wise Elders – people who are intentional about their spiritual journey, able to role model for others maturity, wholeness, healing, and wisdom.
1. The Two Halves of Life
a. Not age, but where one is in the spiritual journey
i. how we’ve attended to certain spiritual tasks that life sends us
ii. in what we take our identity.
iii. what are our essential struggles.
b. Each stage has distinctive spiritual tasks and gifts; each half of life has its own set of rules.
c. First half of life is about getting your life together (Essential Discipleship). Second half of life is giving your life away. (Generative Discipleship, Radical Discipleship)
i. Nikos Kazantzakis – wrestling with the devil, wrestling with God.
2. The tasks of the first half of life.
a. Integrating eros –Sheer pulse for life. Developing discipline.
i. Image and likeness of God. Imago Dei = God is fire – Hebrew Bible symbol of God à energy, fire. Energy is Godly, but beyond us.
ii. For example, baby puts things in mouth (wants to take it all in!); teenagers stay up and absorb everything.
iii. God embraces the world, infusing it with energy.
iv. Religion for teens – needs color and life b/c they struggle with restlessness and FOMO.
v. Need for mentors to help hold this energy.
b. The struggle with loneliness/intimacy – learning the ways of intimacy takes time!
i. Womb is perfect intimacy / birth is a massive trauma. 40- 50 years until we’re comfortable again with intimacy.
ii. When we’re young, we tend to have a romantic ideal that is often unattainable. (Romeo and Juliet would have been divorced! That kind of intensity doesn’t necessarily make for intimacy.)
iii. It’s easier to find a lover than a friend. Hard to find someone to be intimate with. As you age intimacy becomes easier.
c. Insubstantiality –coming to terms with insubstantiality.
i. Who am I? How am I going to leave a mark on this word?
ii. Fear is expressed in Eccelsiastes – everything is vapor, and I will disappear.
iii. Jesus gives gentle reminders in the Gospel that achievement isn’t going to alleviate this anxiety.
d. Sexual energy
i. Almost overpowering at puberty. Boys - 300 times more testosterone in system! Overheated, awkward, acting out.
ii. This will never let go again until we die.
iii. Task = make peace with sexuality so we can sleep at night, stay inside commitments, not hurt ourselves or others.
iv. Can take 40, 50, 60 years to bring it home.
v. Youth often split off sexuality. Lucky if you find someone, marry and can bring it home.
e. Desire for Moral Rectitude –
i. Need to be right, take up causes.
1. We feel it when we encounter someone who doesn’t share our political or religious views, we feel a need to respond, to correct them.
ii. Worst cases this desire for moral rectitude manifests itself in young people joining religious cults or forms of violence.
iii. This energy needs to be initiated and channeled. Move from law to prophecy to wisdom. Once you’re wise, you don’t need to be right anymore. Doesn’t matter who is right.
f. Gifts of the first half of life:
iii. Mystery and Darkness – making the journey into the wider world.
iv. Visionary action, hope, inspiration.
v. Seeds of cultural renaissance
3. Crossing Over to the 2nd Half of Life – how does it happen?
a. Great love which takes us beyond ourselves, humbles us, and allows us to see that we are a living in a greater love that suffuses all creation. Humbles and dethrones the ego.
b. Or great suffering. – Something that takes us to the edge of our resources.
4. Struggles of the Second Half of Life
a. Wound and anger.
i. Name the wounds, and make the journey of forgiveness.
ii. Forgive others, self, God.
iii. Grief work until the blaming and seeing oneself as a victim stops.
iv. Journey to the Holy Old Fool!
b. Dethrone yourself to become the blessing grandparent.
i. Great elders are a blessing presence. Like a beautiful rock in the river, gives it character.
ii. This is what God is. God is a mature grandparent.
c. Simplify language
i. When we’re young we need complexity, need to be sophisticated. Second half of life, utter simplicity. Truly holy old people who have done this right à John XXIII, Pope Francis, Mother Theresa.
ii. Henri Nouwen simplified language; writing became deeper as he aged; rewriting drafts to further simplify language; developed a language of second half of life.
i. Take our identity in God. No longer need to achieve; no longer looking to ground my self-worth in what I have done. Now we need to be Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet.
ii. Achievement is necessary for young people. Need to prove themselves to themselves and the world. Need that ego container, a healthy ego (we see what happens when people don’t have that.)
iii. “After 30 success has nothing to teach us.” – Richard Rohr. Failures and wounds bring wisdom.
e. Gifts of the 2nd half of life:
1. have moved beyond dualistic thinking – “they no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, with me or against me.”
2. Can hold the contradictions, ambiguities and paradoxes of life.
1. Perspective that comes with experience.
2. Elders are characterised by their wisdom which is manifested through their humility, generosity, compassion and willingness to accept the imperfections and shortcomings of life. We find ourselves attracted by their open-heartedness in giving and receiving love. Their way of being in the world is expansive, embracing…
iii. Cosmic Perspective
1. See the interconnectedness of all life.
Do this work by choice or by conscription!
The Awful Rowing Toward God
Anne Sexton (1928-1974)
A story, a story!
(Let it go. Let it come.)
I was stamped out like a Plymouth fender
into this world.
First came the crib
with it’s glacial bars.
and the devotion to their plastic mouths.
Then there was school,
the little straight rows of chairs,
blotting my name over and over,
but undersea all the time,
a stranger whose elbows wouldn’t work.
Then there was life
with it’s cruel houses
and people who seldom touched –
though touch is all –
but I grew,
like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,
and then there were many strange apparitions,
the nagging rain, the sun turning into poison
and all of that, saws working through my heart,
but I grew, I grew,
and God was there like an island I had not rowed to,
still ignorant of Him, my arms and my legs worked,
and I grew, I grew,
I wore rubies and bought tomatoes
and now, in my middle age,
about nineteen in the head I’d say,
I am rowing, I am rowing
though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
and the sea blinks and rolls
like a worried eyeball,
but I am rowing, I am rowing,
though the wind pushes me back
and I know that that island will not be perfect,
it will have the flaws of life,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat inside of me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.
God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.
As the African says:
This is my tale which I have told,
if it be sweet, if it be not sweet,
take somewhere else and let some return to me.
This story ends with me still rowing.
Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser
Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
Living an Examined Life by James Hollis
Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis