Our Odyssey to Spiritual Maturity

Beth Henricks Message

June 3rd 2018

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:24-26

Resources Utilized – Falling Upward by Richard Rohr




Friends, Bob and his family are on their way to a much-needed vacation in Florida today.  I was asked several months ago to give the message and appreciated the opportunity to share with you.


But dear Friends, I have struggled to hear God’s voice in what I should say today.  I ask for your grace in my words and appreciate your love and support in our experience together.


I read Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward several years ago but re-read it this last week.  Its message hit me in a pretty profound way and has been challenging me all week.


Most of you know that Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province.  He has written may books and I follow his daily blog.  He is an important voice in Christianity today.


He wrote Falling Upward in 2011 encouraging us to think about our lives in two halves.   The first half is all about building our container.  The issues we are concerned about in the first half of our life are “identity, security, sexuality and gender”. We want to look good to others.   Marking boundaries and protecting boundaries are the primary task of this first half of life.  We are defensive about our personal, group and our tribal identities.  And in terms of religion it is much about purity codes, rules to follow and being clear and clean in our theology.  


 I remember graduating from college with a business degree in 1982.  I desperately wanted to be successful to the outside world.   My mother who was born in 1914 thought the only option for me to enter the business world was as a secretary.  I was determined to follow a different path and declared that I would never be dependent on another person.  This was part of my journey work in the first half of life. And my spiritual journey was focused on absolutes, externals, formulas, and Bible quotes to answer the tough questions. 


While we may look down on this period, the first half of life is absolutely a part of our odyssey to spiritual depth.  To be healthy and whole human beings requires us to establish our containers and identities.  As humans we all have certain needs that are prioritized. At a basic level we need food and shelter before we can move to a higher level of consciousness.  Then we need security, love and belonging, self-esteem and finally we can achieve a level of self-actualization.  These lower level needs are part of the first half of life work while the higher ones are the second part of life work.   We need to be successful in establishing the first half of life stuff, we need to learn to be responsible and independent.   As The Dalai Lama said, “Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.”


The marking of time in the first half of our lives in also not a matter of chronology.  Some folks move into the second half of life early and many others never leave the first half.  And sometimes when our foundations are shaken, we step back into first half responses.    The familiar and comfortable are reassuring places.  And unfortunately, most of our institutions including the church focus on first half matters.  It seems to be how our world defines progress and success.


I believe we start considering second half life matters when we start asking some of the deep questions, have doubts, and wonder about our purpose here on this earth.  This second half of life is focused on the contents that go into our individual containers and identities.  And we begin to understand that the way to go up must be by going down.   


I was fascinated with the Bill Moyers interviews in the late 1980’s called The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell (Campbell was a professor of literature, writer, philosopher and a student of comparative mythology and religions).  He talked about how our myths, stories and religious expressions have had so many common elements throughout history.    The hero’s odyssey has been told in many ways from the heroes of our Bible stories, throughout mythology (Homer’s Odyssey is the classic example) to the saints in the Christian tradition and to many books, movies and shows.    All the hero journeys have 5 common elements as Rohr defines in his book.

·        “They live in a world that they take for granted and is sufficient.


·        They have a call and the courage to leave home for the journey.


·        On the journey they find out the real problem – they are always wounded, and the epiphany is that the wound becomes the secret key.


·        The first task is not the only task and is usually a warm up to the real task – a deeper river beneath the appearances.  They find their soul.


·        They return to where they started and know the place for the first time.  They have a life energy force and share it with others.”


Joseph Campbell said in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “We have only to follow the thread of the hero path.  Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”


This is the soil of second half of life stuff.  We never really find something unless we lose it and then re-find it later at a different level.  We must experience falling, losing, failing, as they will lead us back home.    We grow spiritually more by what we do wrong than by doing it right.  As Jesus said in our scripture reading today, we have to lose our life to find it.  2 Corinthians 12:10 says that when we are weak, we are strong.   Jesus also tells us the last shall be first.  Do we really believe this? Because our culture and our churches don’t tell us that.  

And do we live this out in our lives?  It’s pretty radical stuff. 


The second half of life brings us to appreciate what we all have in common.  We can live in the tension of both/and instead of separating everything into either/or.  We seek the wisdom of our elders and “weighty friends”.  “We can participate in a sacred dance versus a survival dance”. 

We stop making God so small and imagine the depth of God’s love to every person and all creation.  We can swim in the river of doubt, unknowing and mystery and won’t drown.  And as we read our sacred Scriptures, we can claim Truth without having to believe in historical facts.


I was talking with my brother who is 9 years my senior on Mother’s Day this year.  We were reflecting on our mother whom we lost at 95 years old in 2010.  I hold my mother in such esteem – not only as an amazing mom but a spiritual giant and one of the biggest influences in my life.  My brother however feels differently about our mom.  He felt that as he was growing up our mom was rule oriented and rigid.  He saw a significant change in her as she aged so my experience was different.  This was her journey of moving from a first half life focus to a second half-life focus and we were all the beneficiaries of this shift. 


This second half of life is also a time where we expose our inner selves to the Light, we see our shadows and we are humbled and we experience death and resurrection.  We experience the Gospel. We feel the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We attempt to describe this experience through our metaphors like Flowing Water, Fire, the Seed, the Wind.  I love how St Augustine describes this in his confession, “you were within, but I was without.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.” 


I think I finally understand what Jesus was saying in Luke 14:27, Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters – yes even one’s own self! Can’t be my disciple.  Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.  It’s the act of letting go of the relationships that are most important to us.  It’s the second half of life experience that Jesus is trying to explain.


As we enter our unprogrammed worship time together, please reflect on the queries in the bulletin and open your heart to the voice of God.  If the message you hear today needs to be shared with others, please stand and share.  This message may be for you alone and please hold this in your soul.   I would like to read you a poem from Thomas Merton:


When in the soul of the serene disciple

With no more Fathers to imitate

Poverty is a success,

It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:

He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,

Are angry with the noble ruin

Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:

There no longer any need of comment

It was a lucky wind

That blew away his halo with his cares,

A lucky sea that drowned his reputation

Here you will find

Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.

There are no ways,

No methods to admire

Where poverty is no achievement.

His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

What choice remains?

Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:

It is the usual freedom

Of men without visions.